Nasty sting awaits unwary at beach

By Genevieve Helliwell

Unusually warm water temperatures are attracting swimmers and surfers to local beaches but the weather is also bringing unwanted guests to shore.

Bluebottle jellyfish, known for their nasty stings, have returned to the Western Bay coastline and lifeguards are warning sea-goers to be careful.

When the Bay of Plenty Times went down to the beach, bluebottles lined the water's edge. They were the most abundant between Omanu and Papamoa surf clubs.

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Last week lifeguards noticed a sudden influx of bluebottles along the coastline, which Papamoa Surf Lifesaving Club patrol captain Shaun Smith said was "pretty normal" for the time of year.

"They were everywhere, I would say about a metre apart or closer," he said. "And they were very dense. They were slimy but looked more like a blob filled with air."

In the water, bluebottles float in the currents with stingy tentacles dragging up to a metre behind. The wind brings them ashore and then they puff out like a "sack full of air".

"They're quite obvious to see when they're in the water or on shore and people need to be careful, because they will sting even when they're washed up on the beach," Mr Smith said. "Kids go and squash them but that's not the best idea because they can give off a nasty sting."

The bluebottles were first noticed by Papamoa Surf Lifesaving Club members a few weeks ago. Up the road at Omanu, lifeguards have noticed an influx in the past two weeks.

"But it's certainly not as much as previous years," patrol captain Kurt Golding said.

"We've had the odd one wash up ... they're always here at this time of year and tend to disappear again around mid-February."

Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service patrol captain James Roy said he had knowledge of only one jellyfish sting in the past three weeks.

In the past, bluebottles have also been spotted across the harbour entrance between Mauao and Matakana Island.

The bluebottles have now disappeared from Papamoa Beach. But Mr Smith still urged swimmers to be aware of their potential to cause harm.

Intentionally prod a blue bottle on the beach, touch one or lay on one with bare skin and you were likely to get stung, he said.

If stung, the affected area should be rinsed in the sea or with other water. And if the tentacle remained stuck to you, a "really hot shower" would help remove tentacles and ease the pain.

Mr Smith advised to get medical attention if the sting became inflamed or the affected area turned "lumpy".

Amcal Mount Dispensary owner Mark Bedford said he had not treated many jellyfish sting victims but he put that down to fewer people being in the water.

"They're out there, for certain, but we haven't had a lot of people coming in lately," he said.

"But we have seen the divers working on the Rena and given them anti-venom, because they're out there getting stung."

Mr Bedford said the best thing to put on jellyfish and bluebottle stings was a product called Stingose, as long as it was applied immediately.

"Or they can put on any other anti-venom cream or anti-histamine cream or anti-inflammatory that will reduce the swelling and the itch."

Another nasty beach bug, which the locals call the Mount Mauler, was on the beach at this time of year making its mark, Mr Bedford said.

The key to avoiding getting bitten by the beach bug was to stay within the area of the sea and the high-tide line.

"These beach bugs live in the soft sand and in the dunes, so if you stay on the hard stuff you'll be all right."


Often referred to as jellyfish, bluebottles are actually siphonophora, a type of marine invertebrate.

They have tentacles - sometimes as long as 10m - armed with millions of microscopic stings.

Typical symptoms of stings include pain, burning, redness and swelling of lymph nodes. Tell lifeguards if you think you've been stung by a bluebottle.

If stung, rinse affected area with water before attempting to remove the tentacles - do not touch the tentacles with bare skin. A warm or hot shower will help remove the tentacles.

To avoid stings wear a wetsuit. A layer of petroleum jelly spread on bare skin can also help protect you against stings when swimming

- Bay of Plenty Times

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