3 Children Dead - Philippines Box Jellyfish Shock & Shame

Three young children in the space of only four weeks have sadly died in the Philippines from box jellyfish stings. Local media reported that the tragedies occurred in areas known to have box jellyfish. There were no warning signs, no available vinegar, no emergency procedures. No-one knew what to do.

The Philippines has a wide-spread, well-known box jellyfish problem. Deaths have been occurring for many years. Authorities as well as resort, tour and boat operators have long been aware of box jellyfish and fatalities in their respective area's waters. Yet, still, there is no serious system, no co-ordinated planning and no warnings.

At a scientific level in the Philippines progress into box jellyfish research is only just beginning. Identification was made a long time ago of a potentially lethal species of Filipino Chironex box jellyfish. But that's about it. No-one seems to know much at all. Recent Facebook activity shows that there is a University of Hawaii biochemist who runs a for-profit research lab developing and marketing jellyfish sprays and creams collecting sting data in the Philippines.

At a practical level, with three reported deaths in four weeks, things clearly are not going well. In fact, it is probably safe to say that safety is not a priority. Never has been. Profits are what is important, and as a result of years of indecision and inaction and ignorance, the squeaky clean picture of a paradise remains. And so does the loss of innocent young lives, brushed under the carpet as though these things are inevitable and there's nothing that can be done to prevent them from happening again.

Is it not reasonable to assume that those charged with the responsibility of administering rules and regulations, protecting the safety and welfare of all citizens and visitors, would after a box jellyfish death or two, or three, acknowledge a dangerous problem and take proper, well-informed steps to minimise the risk?

Is it not the duty of care of those working in hospitality and tourism that are aware of a life-threatening risk to not only inform their guests of said risk but to be prepared for an emergency in case those paying to use their services are affected?

Is it not the role of the medical fraternity that treat box jellyfish sting victims to ensure that their knowledge is better than non-existent and their procedures are up-to-date so that they are in the best position to save lives?

Three innocent children in a period of only weeks, less than 400-kilometres from each other. Families and local communities shattered. Again.

The local media quoted the mother of a 7-year old victim saying that her daughter's life could have been saved if there were warning signs. Sentiments also expressed by the family of an 18-month old girl killed 370-kilometres away at Lucena just weeks earlier.

Boat operators without first aid kits or vinegar on board, and without first aid training or seemingly a care in the world for their passengers' safety, blame the victim's family for not knowing better nor being prepared to treat a box jellyfish sting.

The doctor attending one young girl at Caramoan hospital said she knew of a 2-year old girl who died in the same manner in the same waters just one week earlier. The doctor referred to the death as being due to an extreme allergic reaction. False. The victim is not killed by their allergy, the victim is killed by a box jellyfish's lethal venom.

Victim blaming is not the answer. The solution is actually simple. Get people asking questions and making decisions for themselves before they become innocent victims. Start by putting up warning and information signs in high-risk places. Inform local operators of the risks and their responsibilities. Make them have a bottle of vinegar costing around US$0.50 in the boat in case it's needed. It's a start. It's simple. It will save lives.

These are reported deaths in a 4-week window within a 400-kilometre radius. The Philippines has 36,289-kilometres of coastline. It would be reasonable to suggest that stings go unreported or fly under our radar. 

Recommended Viewing: 

Filmed by a video photographer July 28, 2018 on the island of Bantayan off the north-west of Cebu, a woman is stung on the arm by a box jellyfish. She is hurt and hospitalised, but ultimately lucky. A similar linear measurement of tentacle on an infant or small child would likely cause death.

Further Reading:

Photos Rosemae Tomilloso Alegre and ABS-CBN News.


  1. In Borneo, we too have Box Jelly. What to do:

    1. DO NOT remove tentacles. When you are wrapped, only about 1% of the poison pods have fired. Removing tentacles will fire thousands more.

    2. Lay on beach and saturate with (real) vinegar. (here in Borneo there is lots of fake vinegar, must be real). Spray bottle and spay all tentacles for 5 to 10 minutes. Again do not touch tentacles. Spray and spray and spray. At this point, you are either dead or alive. Hopefully alive.

    3. Now, 10+ minutes of saturation of tentacles, it is safe to remove them, they are harmless. If there is lots of poison injected, lay hot water bags (40°C±) on top of red skin. This will kill poison close to surface of skin.

    While all this ^ is happening have someone prepare to deliver CPR to victim. It is quite possible they will go into shock.

    To AVOID - swim in long pants/track pants and long sleeve rash guard and if you like booties. Box will not sting through clothes because it will not detect proteins.
    Most box stings happen at shoreline / very close.

    I saved myself and a six year old boy with this treatment. It works. Always have two large spray bottles full of vinegar and more in their shelf / glass bottles. As a resort operator, you must be prepared if you operate anywhere in SouthEastAsia. Good luck. - AB

    1. Thanks AB. Yes indeed there are lethal box jellyfish in Borneo. You won’t read much about it the local media, but here’s a link to a post about Sabah: https://www.boxjellyfish.net/2019/04/a-new-box-jellyfish-on-block.html?m=1
      Largely correct advice AB; however, pour vinegar from bottle (not spray) onto the sting/tentacle area for 30 seconds to disarm cells.
      Heat packs and hot water are only for pain relief well after the victim is deemed safe.


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