Bintan Sting - Indonesia's Box Jellyfish Reality

The archipelago of Indonesia is a sprawling series of tropical islands smack-bang in the middle of Indo-Pacific box jellyfish habitat between Australia and Thailand. It's a country not known for its information giving, transparency or willingness to listen.

Many years ago, brief contact with an Indonesian marine biologist revealed 3 box jellyfish deaths in 4 months during 2008 - 2 on beaches in East Java near Bali, 1 on Bangka Island off Sumatra - indicating there must be a whole lot more. But it is a mystery and there is no co-ordinated response in Indonesia to the problem of box jellyfish.
Recently, it was revealed that a 6 year old boy was stung by a box jellyfish on the popular tourist island of Bintan located near Singapore. It was a terribly traumatic experience with under-prepared and ill-informed Indonesians failing to properly protect and treat the near-dead boy.

Picture the scene; a postcard setting on a perfect beach outside the 470-room Bintan Lagoon Resort where a young boy is happily playing in the water close to shore. It's a precious moment dreamed of and enjoyed by holidaying families every day. Suddenly paradise is shattered by the piercing screams of a child in serious trouble. A shocked father runs to his trembling, hysterical boy and pulls him from the water.

Chaos prevails as an untrained resort staffer rubs sand on the tentacles (the wrong thing to do), no vinegar is available, the boy is soon unconscious and fighting for his life.

Seconds seem like hours as the boy is rushed to the huge resort's small, poorly-equipped clinic. He has no pulse, his breathing has stopped. It's his father, not the clinician who administers CPR. The boy is revived. With oxygen mask he is taken by car to the local hospital, but it is closed.

His parents wisely decide to evacuate their son to Singapore but they get little help from disorganised Indonesian officials and resort staff. Eventually as oxygen is running out, the parents find a doctor from a different resort who stabilises the boy's breathing while they make arrangements to privately ferry him to Singapore. 

Hours seem like a lifetime as the critically ill boy, stung at 9.30 in the morning, arrives in Singapore at 15.30. Doctors there are unsure if he will make it through the night. 

Thankfully the strong 6-year old does and after 4 days in hospital is released back to his exhausted but relieved parents.

Less than 2 years later, the boy, lucky to be alive, still bares the physical and emotional scars of his awful ordeal.

Nothing of the incident was ever reported in the media or official releases.

There are no warning or information signs on the beach at Bintan Lagoon Resort or anywhere else throughout the entire Republic of Indonesia. There is no vinegar available on the beach in case of a sting. There are no warnings on websites wanting your business. The science, medical, tourism and hospitality industries in Indonesia appear uninterested in following up on their box jellyfish situation. Obviously there are deaths and there are injuries.

Further Reading:

If you choose to holiday in Indonesia or for that matter anywhere in South-East Asia, do not rely on anyone to provide you and your family with the right information, with adequate protection, with proper medical care and with any sense of responsibility. It's up to you, and you alone. Be prepared. Be aware. There is plenty of information in this blog about how best to look after you and your family so as to prevent and treat a box jellyfish sting.


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