Big Test For Little Koh Mak
There is not much in the way of meaningful data available on the Box Jellyfish situation in Thailand or any other country in South-East Asia. It is believed by many well versed in Box Jellyfish research that numerous stings - both fatal and near-fatal - go undetected due to victims not reporting to a medical facility, not being required to get a death certificate, cultural and religious restraints, misdiagnosis (apparent drowning or heart attack) and lies (apparent drowning or heart attack).
On the little Gulf island of Koh Mak no-one is sure exactly how many Box Jellyfish stings have occurred but there have been 3 serious envenomations documented on the exact same beach in a period of just over 2 years - all involving children and 2 involving cardiac arrests requiring resusitation and hospitalization.
After the first sting occurred the locals including resort operators decided not to respond and did absolutely nothing in the way of warning guests of the potential risk.
A few days later the second more serious sting occurred, no signs were on the beach and no warning was given to the victim's family so an informed decision on the risk could not be made. The resort owners in effect were playing Russian Roulette with the lives of their guests, they were negligent in their duty of care.
Even after the 2nd sting no effort was made by Koh Mak islanders to address the situation - no acknowledgement that some form of warning must be issued to visitors. A classic case of a head in the sand, ignorance is bliss bad attitude.
Well, Koh Mak islanders got the shock of their lives when surprise-surprise another serious sting occurred in March and thankfully, miraculously, everyone was spared a fatality due to the quick, calm action not of a Koh Mak islander but of a Swedish fireman.
But hang on. Still no sign. Still no warning. Still no acknowledgement that 'HELLOOO!!! There are Box Jellyfish at this beach!!' That same day, the next day, and the next and so on, there were no signs anywhere. The Governor of Koh Mak (who just happens to own the Koh Mak Resort which is where all the stings are occurring...) and the tourist association placed their livelihoods ahead of that of their guests - there is something seriously wrong with this picture.
Enter Thailand's public health officers who obviously put the hard word in a gentle Thai way on the power brokers of Koh Mak - who also realized that they were getting very bad press in Sweden and other places. They have responded by claiming to finally want to put some things in place to make their island safer. It is understood that warning signs and first aid boxes containing vinegar will be set up on the beach. While nothing is confirmed and no details about what beach or how many beaches are available, this appears to be a very positive step that if correctly implemented will one day save a life.
Congratulations Koh Mak on finally being big about doing a little something to help the very people who prop up your island's economy and your healthy bank balances. The big question is, can you sustain it if in a few months time or even a few years time no stings are reported?