Steering Clear of Stingers

By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 5, 2008

Q. We are traveling to Australia in November and want to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef. Some guidebooks say it's impossible to snorkel at that time of year due to the abundance of deadly stinging jellyfish, while others say you can snorkel anytime without a problem. Are there any jellyfish-free areas in the reef for snorkeling at that time of year?

Lori Swain and Marion Brunken, Alexandria

A. Researching this question has given us a healthy respect for the box (Chironex) and the Irukandji, two types of dangerous jellyfish (a.k.a. marine stingers) that ply the tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef, particularly between the warm months of November to May and June. Dangerous as in potentially lethal. The box jelly is generally considered the world's most dangerous animal. According to Marine Stingers, a Web site run by the Queensland, Australia, government, death from a box jellyfish sting typically occurs within two to five minutes. Exact mortality rates aren't known, but it's thought that the box jelly is responsible for at least one death a year in Australian waters.

But that doesn't mean you can't snorkel. There are a few precautions you can take to minimize the risks:

· Wear a "stinger suit" (a full-body Lycra wetsuit) whenever you're in the water. They're available for rent from marine tour operators and outfitters. Remember, though, that while the suits offer some protection, they are not stinger-proof.

· Carry vinegar with you (see below).

· Swim at a patrolled beach. Look for and obey safety signs.

· If possible, swim in areas enclosed by a stinger net.

· Enter the water slowly. This gives stingers time to move away.

· Don't touch jellyfish washed up on the beach. They can still sting you.

If you're stung, douse the site of the sting with vinegar (urine or seawater as a last resort, but never fresh water). Note that it may take as long as 40 minutes for a reaction to occur, so it's important to monitor the victim in a safe location out of the water. For more information on jellyfish, visit the Marine Stingers Web site, For more information on diving and snorkeling safety:

I am flying from Reagan National to New York's JFK to connect with an Air Maroc flight to Casablanca and have a five-hour wait at JFK's international terminal. Do you have any suggestions for how to creatively spend five hours at JFK or its environs?

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