Why Australia Is Having An 'Extraordinary' Bluebottle Invasion This Year
'Walls' of jellyfish have descended on beaches across the east coast, so where are they coming from?
If you've been to the beach around the Queensland coast in the last couple of weeks, chances are you've stumbled across a bluebottle or two.
With stinger season well underway in the sunshine state, lifesavers and emergency services are well-prepared to handle the occasional sting along the coast.
But less than two weeks into the new year, one of the busiest times for Aussie beaches, the number of treatments for bluebottle stings, and more worryingly irukandji jellyfish stings, has been staggering.
Just nine days into 2019, lifesavers across the state had treated more than 10,300 blue bottle stings, according to Surf Lifesaving Queensland CEO John Brennan.
The first weekend of the year saw a whopping 3,600 people stung by blue bottles, with the SLSQ closing some beaches because of the removal of stinger nets.
Rhys Drury from SLSQ on the Sunshine Coast said it was "right up there" with the most bluebottles they've ever seen.
"We've been pretty fortunate over the last few years," Drury told reporters this month.
He chalked up the sudden influx of the jellyfish to "relentless" easterly winds pushing warmer waters towards the coast, and experts agree.
Dr Lisa Gershwin, director of the Marine Stinger Authority said the east coast has seen a surge of all kinds of jellyfish this season.
Gershwin told 10 daily unlike other species, bluebottles are not known to respond to changing oceans, however wind is likely a big factor for their sudden influx.
She explained that bluebottles, which live in the middle of the open ocean, are either left or right-horned.
When wind comes up it grabs the ones that have the sail going in the right way and it just drives them until either the wind tapers off or they just get driven onto the shore where we can seen them.
She said wherever wind is either growing or sustained, like the Queensland coast has experienced, beachgoers will be able to see bluebottles.
This means it's possible for them to move down to the NSW coast this summer as well.
"What's extraordinary here is the number of stings that have been treated in such a condensed region and time frame," Gershwin said.
Letricia Delaney from the University of the Sunshine Coast, who has undertaken research into how climate influences jellyfish trends, said the last few weeks have seen a "perfect storm" of conditions.
Her 2016 study found a clear link with climate cycles and the length of stinging periods.
“We found there tends to be a longer stinger season during the El Niño weather cycle which usually lasts one year and is associated with warmer waters,” she told 10 daily.
'A Very Jelly year'
Nine people were taken to hospital suffering severe bluebottle stings in the first week of 2019.
While they are not deadly, the stings can trigger an allergic reaction and are very painful -- especially for young children.
"Sometimes it's just not worth it," Drury said.
Alarmingly experts have recorded a spike in the number of irukandji attacks in the last month. This spices of box jellyfish is known to be extremely venomous and dangerous.
It's prompted repeated warnings from authorities of the threat of the deadly jellyfish in waters around Fraser Island.
There have been 11 reported irukandji stings in the last month alone, and the yearly numbers are more than double the usual recorded amount annually.
Gershwin explained the rise in irukandjis can be from a natural variability in the species, heat, responding well to winds, or warmer waters.
"In the last two years irukandjis have really been having not very abundant seasons and they might just be making up for lost time," she said.
SLSQ Lifesaving Services Coordinator Wide Bay Julie Davis said people who suspected they had been stung by irukandji should douse the area with vinegar immediately, dial 000 and get to a hospital as soon as possible.
Gershwin is also the co-creator of The Jellyfish App, which is this month celebrating its two year anniversary.
The application, which has been downloaded in more than 120 countries, includes an encyclopedia to identify jellyfish species from all over the world -- and gives advice on how to treat stings.
It also features alerts and an option to send images of jellyfish to researchers for identification, and also to ask questions.
Gershwin said the app was initially developed to "take away the scariness" of jellyfish, but it has now even allowed her team to identify new species and collect specimens.
"It's fantastic to be able to use technology to speak to people directly," Gershwin told 10 daily.
"It's been wildly successful and that just makes me blush to even be able to say that."
Featured Image: Facebook (Queensland Surf Lifesaving)/Instagram (Queensland Ambulance Service)
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