When you come to Florida, who isn’t always on the lookout for a Manatee or Dolphin? Everyone watches and gets excited when one of these guys surfaces and we get the momentary encounters. How many come in hopes of seeing Jellyfish? Yeah, not many if any. In fact, we at BluWave avoid publicizing the negative impacts of these guys on tourism usually.
Jellyfish are always present in the gulf waters; Moon jelly, Cassiopeia, Stinging Nettles, even the occasional Man O’ War, and several others. The spring is usually when there is an increase in jellyfish sightings and unfortunately stings. That is because as the dry season comes to an end, water in the gulf has a higher than normal salinity (saltier) due to the lack of fresh water mixing at the coast. This environment suits the jellyfish more so they come. The drought in Florida, despite the hurricanes and weather associated with it, has persisted now and overall the salinity is much higher than normal and may be partly the cause.
Most agree that Hurricane Nate, which stayed farther away than first expected, still had force to push high tides, surges, and currents our way and might be in combination with high salinity, a factor in increasing numbers this season. High levels of nutrients can contribute to jellyfish population also and as Irma drained the bays (negative surge) and then refilled when the surge came back in, it stirred up lots of nutrients. This affected fishing and water clarity, and also may have impacted the spike in jellyfish populations. Ecology is most often a combination of contributing factors but there are definitely more jellyfish in our waters now than usual.
Should people avoid going in the water? Not at all. It is wise to keep an eye out for the stinging creatures, avoid areas where they are spotted, and watch kids so they aren’t caught off guard. Some people may carry a little vinegar with them during higher population times because vinegar may help reduce the stinging when one is stung. It is a weak acid and actually helps wash off the nematocysts (stinging cells from the tentacles) that have not fired their toxins. It’s not like a bee sting with one stinger; when a jellyfish stings a person, it leaves thousands of very tiny nematocysts in the skin. Fresh water is shocking to the nematocysts and causes them to fire and more stinging occurs, as does rubbing the tentacles off with your hands. Using sea water is BEST because the cells are normally in that environment so rinsing the unfired cells off is helpful, vinegar can work too, and scraping the cells off with a credit card can be helpful too. Even dead jellyfish or washed up jellyfish on the shore have the ability to be dangerous.
Jellyfish stings are like all stings, the introduction of the toxin, usually acidic, into your body causes a reaction of antigens and a burning sensation. As your body moves to neutralize the foreign substance, the stinging eases.. Generally a jellyfish sting takes about 20 minutes to become tolerable or painless. Of course, those allergic or that experience anaphylactic shock have much more serious reactions.
No one wants to experience these stings. Seeing jellyfish from the boat can be pretty, they are part of the marine ecosystem and can be quite entertaining, but avoidance is best in the water. Jellyfish will not attack you if your swimming, the waves and currents move them about and it might seem like your being attacked but that is wave action not swarming jellyfish.
Dolphins and Manatees are more attractive and popular for our visitors to enjoy on the Suncoast for sure. We bring this topic up so that our visitors can be aware and be safe and not have their day out on the boat swimming in the beautiful gulf waters off the shore of one of our many islands, interrupted by a painful encounter – even if the discomfort will be just a memory in an hour. Staying alert to any danger when visiting a new environment is wise and we hope by informing our guests, you will be more educated and therefore able to relax and enjoy the time you spend here in paradise.