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Scientists and managers will be better-equipped to understand and predict groups or ‘smacks’ of potentially deadly Irukandji jellyfish in Far North Queensland waters thanks to government-supported research.

Jellyfish scares during the summer season often lead to beach closures in North Queensland, with several swimmers suffering the excruciating pain of an Irukandji sting, described as feeling like ‘having a red-hot knife jammed into the base of your spine for six hours’.

However, a project funded by the NESP Tropical Water Quality Hub has tapped into the brains-trust on Irukandji to move research on box jellyfish into the future.

The final report identifies a framework for research investment on Irukandji bringing together jellyfish experts, surf lifesavers, Indigenous rangers and other stakeholders. Future research will look at better understanding of Irukandji behaviour and morphology, how they are affected by weather patterns such as El Nino and ways for the public to use social media to identify possible Irukandji specimens in the wild.

Project lead Professor Mike Kingsford from James Cook University (JCU) said bringing together all stakeholders for the workshop opened the door for better investment in jellyfish research.

“The Australian Government has recognised that understanding and managing box jellyfishes requires greater focus and engagement with stakeholders,” Professor Kingsford said.

“With the workshop it was really the first time we had all the relevant stakeholders in the same room – traditional owners, surf lifesavers, GBRMPA, JCU, CSIRO and more – and had a productive conversation about Irukandji research.

“Based on the outcome of the workshop, the government has endorsed further research.

“In terms of how it’s going to help minimise risk, we’re looking at ways of reducing stings by being able to provide better warnings to swimmers and also dealing with stings in the best possible way.”

Far North Queensland surf lifesavers are also looking forward to increased knowledge about Irukandji, especially given increased beach closures this year.

Surf Lifesaving Queensland Lifeguard supervisor Russell Blanchard said knowing an Irukandji swarm was coming before it arrived could help people avoid stings.

“From our point of view one of the biggest benefits of this research is the risk assessment that will help us make a decision on whether it’s safe to swim or not,” Mr Blanchard said.

The full report is available online.

More info on this project can be found here.


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