Many vacationers wonder if there are jellyfish in the Caribbean Sea. And more importantly– are they dangerous?
You’re contemplating a relaxing, fun-filled vacation to the Caribbean, where the waters are warm and the sun shines all day. But you’re not the only one who loves the Caribbean Sea. Millions of creatures call it home– and some are friendlier than others. Among the “non-amicable” ones are the dreaded jellyfish, who can leave you with the unwanted vacation souvenir of a painful stinging rash.
But have no fear! Your guide to jellyfish avoidance is here– and as long as you take some precautions, these strange gooey creatures won’t ruin your Caribbean vacation.
Jellyfish in the Caribbean
Yes, there are jellyfish in the Caribbean. In fact, there are many different species of them in Caribbean waters. However, the good news is that not all types of jellyfish sting! Most are completely harmless.
On the other hand, there are a handful of jellies in the Caribbean that can cause rashes and other problems if they come into contact with humans. Here are common Caribbean jellyfish that you should watch out for:
1. Moon jellyfish
This jellyfish is pretty benign compared the others, but it can still leave your skin feeling itchy. These end up in the Caribbean during the warm months of the year, pushed there by ocean currents. They can live in both shallow coastal waters and in the open sea. Dome shaped and mostly transparent, they provide food for sea turtles. Note that the tentacles sting, and not the dome. You can actually move a moon jellyfish away by applying the palm of your hand to the top of its domed body.
Since these jellies look very similar to plastic bags, many sea turtles end up ingesting bags by mistake. If you happen to see a plastic bag floating in the ocean, remove it! Doing so will probably save a turtle’s life.
2. The Sea Wasp
Sea wasps, also known as box jellyfish, are known as the most dangerous kinds of jellies that inhabit the Caribbean Sea. However, their poison is not nearly as lethal as one species (Chironex fleckeri) of box jellyfish found only in the Pacific. They are a bit tricky to see, since they are mostly transparent and float about 6 inches beneath the water’s surface. These creatures have a cube-shaped bell and 4 long tentacles. They are more prevalent during certain times of the year than others, depending on their spawning cycles. Usually, blooms ( sudden increases in population due to reproduction) occur about 10 days after a full moon.
Stings from a sea wasp can cause nausea, back pain, and limb cramps, among other symptoms. If stung, you should immerse the area in hot water and seek medical attention immediately.
3. Portuguese Man ‘O war
This creature delivers a rarely fatal but extremely painful sting. However, it is easy to spot because its bluish-purple “sail” usually stays above the water’s surface as it swims. Its tentacles are extremely long, having been known to grow to up to 30′ in length. Detached tentacles and even dead, washed up specimens can still sting.
Technically, the portuguese man o’war isn’t a jellyfish. It is a siphonophore, which means it is a colonial organism made up of individual polyps that function together as if they were one animal. However, its appearance and similarities to jellyfish cause it to be classified as one by society at large.
Man o’war sightings are uncommon at Caribbean beaches. When they do end up near swimming zones, town authorities will usually close the beach.
Jellyfish are slightly more common in Caribbean waters during the warmer months. This is because the trade winds direct them toward the islands from March to June. In addition, these creatures prefer warmer waters. By the end of November, very few of them are left, thanks to cooler water temperatures.
Does the presence of jellyfish in Caribbean mean that you should cancel your vacation? By no means! There are truly no “deadly” jellyfish in the Caribbean. They are slow swimmers and do not attack humans. Jellyfish stings generally only occur when someone has bumped into one accidentally. In addition, taking a few simple precautions can greatly reduce your risk of encountering one.
- If you don’t know what it is, DON’T TOUCH IT.
- Wear water shoes when exploring sandbars.
- Don’t swim with open wounds.
- Don’t wear flashy, shiny jewelry or clothing. Jellyfish can mistake these for lures.
- Avoid swimming at night.
- Avoid floating seaweed, as jellyfish may be hiding there.
- Wear lycra or a protective suit when diving or snorkeling, or a t-shirt at the very least.
- Never touch a dead jellyfish. Its tentacles most likely still contain venom.
- Heed warnings about jellyfish “blooms” and sightings on beaches.
- Use protective anti-jellyfish sting lotions.
What to do when stung by a jellyfish
First of all, do not panic. Most jellyfish stings are not medical emergencies. However, this does not mean that you should not seek medical advice from your doctor. If you or your child has trouble breathing or swallowing or shows other signs of an allergic reaction, call emergency services immediately. Seek medical attention if severe pain lasts for more than two hours, a rash remains for more than two weeks, or blisters appear. Otherwise, the following home remedies can help:
- Do NOT touch the area with your bare hands.
- If some stingers still remain lodged in the skin, use tweezers to remove them.
- Rinse the area with water (some doctors recommend hot water for this).
- Use over-the-counter anti-itch cream to reduce itching.
- Most doctors do NOT recommend treating jellyfish stings with meat tenderizer, urine, alcohol, or ammonia.
Note that treatment depends on the type of jellyfish sting. Always seek medical help immediately if the sting covers more than half of an arm or leg, or when there are signs of an allergic reaction.
Stay safe while on the beach in the Caribbean! See more beach safety tips here.
Main image source: oceana.org
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