Langkawi's Pantai Cenang 'Highly Unsafe'

Langkawi's popular Pantai Cenang was the site for a horrible box jellyfish death this year plus innumerable jellyfish stings including dozens inflicted by highly dangerous Irukandji that were serious enough to require hospitalisation with lingering painful affects.

Jellyfish expert Dr Peter Fenner often mentioned on this blog is a pioneer in box jellyfish safety and awarness in northern Australia, is internationally regarded as a leading authority and even has an Irukandji named after him, Morbakka Fenneri; he had this to say about Langkawi's Pantai Cenang , "..more people, both locals and tourists, will continue to die through lack of knowledge and action."

According to the News Straits Times 'Bid To Make Langkawi Waters Jellyfish Free' 22/12/2010, 200 box jellyfish were collected one day by a hundred or so local group members. The reporter suggested that box jellyfish including Morbakka were collected off Pantai Cenang so everything is rapidly improving, it was a story of hope - a united front to combat the aliens and get results, a kill count, plus promises of more, competitions, idyllic jellyfish-free waters around the corner. The reporter did not ask questions of experts, if the reporter had then this response from Dr Peter Fenner would have completely turned the tone of the piece on its head.

"I sincerely hope people are not given the belief that the waters have been cleared and are now safe... This CONFIRMS the fact that these waters are highly UNSAFE." 

"With such numbers there will literally be hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of chirodropids (big box jellyfish) present in the area, including another 200 within an hour or two to the same area of beach, not to mention the sandy and mangrove coastline within hundreds of kilometres of this beach: complacency after this report – it must convey the message that dangerous jellyfish are present and awareness demands action."

Dr Fenner goes on to state, "Protective clothing, vinegar, signage, education brochures and not “ignore the problem and hope all will be ok” ... Sorry to be so blunt in the festive season but it needs to be said."

2010 on Pantai Cenang began with a terrible tragedy as a Swedish woman, Carina Lofgren was killed in the shallows by a Chironex box jellyfish as her stunned husband watched on helplessly in horror. Hundreds of other jellyfish stings occurred throughout the year, a high number of Irukandji box jellyfish hospitalized holiday makers, now here we are at the end of 2010 and little has seemingly changed.

But, there actually is some hope to be found in the article - the marine biology team from the local university involved in the 22 December collection now has 200 specimens to investigate and should be given authority to do proper specimen collections on a regular basis, a scientific study on numbers, habitat, season etc, Clean-up is warm and fuzzy but hard science is the only way. This is a jellyfish problem with big consequences.

Some local tourism and hospitality businesses have made an effort to improve awareness with signage, attempted prevention with largely inadequate netting off the beach and sensible treatment practices using vinegar stations. Some have latched onto the NST article as though it was somewhat vindicating or even exemption. What is required is a sensible, effective, co-ordinated approach utilizing the best knowledge and systems.

Pantai Cenang is a beautiful tropical beach, there are world class resorts and restaurants, tourists flock to this idyllic spot, a shining jewel in Langkawi's crown; Pantai Cenang has a box jellyfish problem, it is now a LADA organised official problem inadvertantly highlighted by local agencies and NGOs and in the newspaper.

In 2011 Pantai Cenang and Langkawi has the opportunity to go on the front foot, take the initiative and plan for best possible outcomes or wait for another tragic death and more serious stings to further unnerve jittery tourists seeking sun, sea, wilderness plus safety and assurance.  


  1. we will be going to ko lipe for a few weeks in mid january 2011. we will be wearing our stinger suits and carrying vinegar, but needless to say the news out of langkawi gives one pause since it's so close to ko lipe. my husband was wondering if you have any news about the tarutoa marine national park islands, whether those island have the right conditions for massive box jellyfish infestations? i know it's impossible to say for certain and that there are box jellyfish all around the andaman sea etc...but we were just wondering if you have any news of stings/problems in the tarutoa marine national park islands. thanks for all your efforts to educate us all about these matters. happy new year!

  2. haven't heard anything of koh lipe. you will be fine taking the precautions you are by wearing suits and carrying vinegar - doing this dramatically reduces the risk. if there are mangroves in this island area then it is most likely there will be box jellyfish. a suit covers the major body areas usually hit by tentacles, you would be extremely unlucky to get stung around the head/neck - you are doing absolutely the right thing, you will be ok, have fun!


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