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Box Jellyfish and the 5 Best Tips For Staying Safe on the Great Barrier Reef

Updated on June 27, 2019
Karanda profile image

Karen has lived in the Whitsunday Region since 2009. The Great Barrier Reef is a four hour boat ride from where she lives.

Box Jellyfish - Cubozoa Family

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Box Jellyfish in the Great Barrier Reef

The box jellyfish are part of the cubazoa family and need to be treated with great respect. They do frequent the waters of the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsundays at certain times of the year. It is commonly known to the locals that the waters are virtually 'out of bounds' between what is known as the 'wet season' months of October to April. But this doesn't mean it is okay to throw caution to the wind come the 1st day in May.

There have been deaths recorded so it is important to observe the warnings about when and where to swim and learn about on the spot treatment for the best and easiest recovery from a sting. The best protection is to learn all you can about this dangerous marine creature for there is still much on offer in the region that is at once breathtaking and exotic. Risks of injury while holidaying on the north eastern coast of Australia is minimal compared with other statistics for injury or fatalities but the more you know the less chance of a nasty encounter.

Holidays in the Whitsundays

Airlie Beach is the perfect spot to park while you explore the region - there are 74 islands in total and the Great Barrier Reef is within easy reach. Airlie Beach has its own man made lagoon, a safe haven for swimmers without worry of the sting from a sea wasp.

Information on Box Jellyfish

Box jellyfish of the Great Barrier Reef

The box jellyfish so named because of its cubed shaped bell is also known as a sea wasp. Because they are in the cubozoa class they are not a true jellyfish but actually more advanced than the common Scyphozoa. Box jellyfish have delicate tentacles stretched out behind the bell up to three metres (10 feet) long. They are fast moving up to 6 metres (20 feet) per minute. Its powerful venom is used to stun and kill its prey. The toxins attack the heart and nervous system. Some common features: transparent or pale blue in colour, box shaped bell with 15 tentacles trailing behind.

Distribution North Eastern Australia

The tropical coastal waters of northern Australia are ideal for the box jellyfish as the sea temperature rises. They thrive in waters over 26 degrees celsius meaning the 'wet season' months between October to April create the ideal environment. The jellyfish are migratory and span the waters between the most western part of Western Australia across the Territory and north Queensland extending down the eastern coast as far south as Gladstone. Much of this area takes in the Great Barrier Reef.

Protected Areas

It is not all bad news for those of us who love to get in the water. Signs are posted throughout the region to warn of the dangers but there are many safe swimming areas protected by stinger nets. The nets are so fine even the smallest of these marine creatures are excluded from entering the waters making the area safe for swimmers.

Instant Treatment

If someone is unfortunate enough to encounter a box jellyfish it is highly recommended that vinegar be placed on the affected site immediately. Most locals insist on keeping a large bottle of vinegar in the boot of the car and many of the more popular swimming sites will also have a bottle on hand close by to the warning sign.

Gloucester Bay has no netted areas
Gloucester Bay has no netted areas | Source

5 Best Tips for Staying Safe in the Whitsundays

1. Observe all warnings

2. Only swim outside the danger times

3. Do not go in the water without a stinger suit during the months of October through April.

4. Stick to the netted areas

5. Apply vinegar immediately on contact and seek medical attention

The Dangerous Marine Creatures of the Great Barrier Reef series has been commissioned by Toscana Village Resort, Airlie Beach Accommodation.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Karen Wilton


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    • channelwhitsunday profile image


      9 years ago

      Box jellyfish is certainly something that I would not want to come across and truth is that I have never met anyone that has even seen one - does not mean they are not there. I try not to enter the water in the peak danger months and so far, no problems for me or people in my company.

      Also I have seen pictures of people that have been stung, the scorched style scares are unsightly !!

      Better be safe than stung!

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      9 years ago from Australia

      The box jellyfish are seriously dangerous. I'm pleased to learn that most Americans want to visit the Great Barrier Reef, it truly is a stunning part of our world in spite of the nasty critters. Most tourists are unaffected though because they stick to the tours with locals who know the area. Thanks for the comment kuttingxedge.

    • kuttingxedge profile image

      Steven P Kelly 

      9 years ago from Tampa, FL

      This stuff is really important for people to know when thinking of visiting the one place I think all Americans want to visit. I couldn't imagine getting tangled up with one of those, blending in perfectly with the blue sea, 15 tentacles ten feet long delivering toxins. No thanks! Great hub!

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      9 years ago from Australia

      Too true AliciaC, the box jellyfish is one of the scarier and deadlier creatures in the series. I haven't worn a stinger suit myself but am told they provide adequate protection but that only relates to the parts of the body that are covered. There have been a few incidences in recent years where people have been stung on the face or neck. Best to keep out of the water in stinger season to be safe.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      9 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The box jellyfish sounds like one of the scarier creatures that you've described in your Great Barrier Reef series of hubs, Karanda. I've never heard of a stinger suit before, but it sounds like a great idea!


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