Thai Marine Scientist In Australia During Box Jellyfish Drama

The Chief of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre and Aquarium ( and recently visited Australia on a Box Jellyfish fact-finding mission sponsored by the Australian government and he couldn't have timed his visit any better.

Dr Somchai Bussarawit managed the Thai government's premier marine reseach facility that also has 5 satellite centres around the country and has been leading Thailand's scientific efforts since the issue of the Box Jellyfish menace rose to prominence in late 2008.

Scheduled to visit Box Jellyfish and Irukandji hot spots at the height of the season while involved in detailed scientific study, practical experience and broad discussions; Dr Somchai began his tour visiting the Australian Venom Research Unit ( located in the University of Melbourne where Director Dr Ken Winkel and Divers Alert Network Asia Pacific ( Exec. Director Mr John Lippmann covered issues relating to safety, education and research. He had intensive taxonomic training with Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin (National Marine Stinger Advisor in Australia) and a look at how Australia approaches medical care and treatment with Dr Peter Fenner ( in Mackay before joining Manager of Uninet Enclosure Systems (, Kim Moss, for some practical fieldwork in the Cairns/Port Douglas region.

While there was little sign of Irukandji, Dr Somchai caught his first Chironex fleckeri Box Jellyfish that he proudly displays in the embedded photo (photo by Kim Moss) then proceeded to capture numerous others as specimens for the PMBC.

During Dr Somchai's visit a 10 year old girl was stung by a Chironex fleckeri near Gladstone (the southern most point where they are thought to inhabit on the eastern Queensland coast) though strangely 23km upriver on the Caliope River. She was badly stung and went into cardiac and respiratory arrest. Quick thinkers at the camp ground doused her with vinegar and she was rushed to meet an ambulance, her parents performing CPR along the way. In an induced coma for several days the girl barely and very luckily survived.

Dr Somchai's eventful trip was well received by all concerned and the various centres across Thailand are benefitting from his experience and implementing plans and procedures to better understand and manage Thailand's Chironex-type Box Jellyfish.

In March several senior Thailand medical officials involved in the area of epidemiology and active in researching their country's Box Jellyfish situation will also visit Australia courtesy of the Australian government to meet with experts and similarly transfer this knowledge to their country's experience.

It is vitally important to note that these visits are a significant yet small step in the right direction  for Thailand which has an incredibly long way to go before effectively managing their Box Jellyfish problem - Australia for example has about 40 years head start. As is evidenced by this photo above (photo by Kim Moss) and systems in place throughout a vast area including beaches and schools, Australia is sophisticated in its response to the threat of Box Jellyfish while in Thailand there might be the odd sign - probably defaced - tucked away at the back of a beach or two and that is it.

In Thailand like with so many things the onus remains on the individual to take due care - carry your own vinegar and wear a stinger suit.


  1. Before planing our trip to Langkawi and the rest of Malaysia I did some research online since we had never been to Malaysia and found several mentions of jellyfish in the waters around Penang and Langkawi. Being naturally very curious I did some more digging to try to understand why this phenomena was occurring and although the science is still inconclusive it seems researchers are well on the way to confirming a couple of facts.
    First, there seems to be a higher concentration of jellyfish in more polluted waters since jellyfish seem to be attracted to waters with a lower quantity of oxygen since plancton thrive in that type of water and plancton is the main food of jellyfish. I have also noticed during my trip that raw sewage seems to be dumped directly into the sea in places like Langkawi and Penang and this fact is also true for much of the world. This creates the perfect environment for plancton and the jellyfish.
    Second, the main predators of jellyfish are sharks and tuna, both of which are VERY popular ingredients for dishes served on almost all islands and countries in southeast Asia. The first restaurant we walked into on Penang had shark fin soup on the menu and after noticing that my wife and I got up and walked out as this is our principles. We cannot expect to overfish our oceans, take out two of the main predators such as Tuna and Shark and expect the oceans NOT to be affected. This throughs off the perfect balance nature took millions of years to achieve and we are now living the consequences. THis problem is affecting the entire world. Japan's fisheries are experiencing the same problem with fisherman's nets being full of jellyfish and nothing else. So much so that Japanese chefs are trying to come up with new recipes using jellyfish as a main ingredient.
    Conclusion, we tend to always look at governments to take responsibility when we should look at ourselves in the mirror to find the guilty party. Last year 2,500,000 tourists visited Langkawi. If you take a very modest average that each tourist spent $500 that is a contribution of 1.25 billion dollars to the Langkawi economy. An island with a population of less that 100,000 people. Therefore tourists are the ones making the decisions of the future of this island and many like it by deciding where to spend there money. Choices such as only eating fish and seafood from sustainable fisheries and making sure the hotel you stay at has some kind of sewage treatment plant or at least a septic tank instead of dumping raw sewage into the ocean will go a long way. People have tendency to think that we alone cannot make a diference and that is absolutely wrong. Te entire tyranny of the arab dictators has fallen or is in the process of due to a very powerful tool we are all using to communicate on this blog. THE INTERNET. If more people take the approach of taking responsibility for our actions by being careful how we impact this world by the consumption choices we make then we would all see gradual changes and balance achieved again. If we don't, then keep can keep of whining like a bunch of cry babies blaming everyone else for our problems.
    I understand that I haven't mentioned the issue of Box jellyfish a singe time in my rant but I guaranty you that somewhere along the way we human beings have created the perfect condition for the proliferation of Box jellyfish. Every place on the earth worth visiting was a perfect heaven before the invasion of tourism. No tourists, no problems!


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