Jellyfish in the Baie des Citrons

In addition to sea snakes (of which I recently read there are 12 different kinds in New Caledonia), we have both poisonous and non-poisonous jellyfish in the bays around Nouméa. We also have poisonous mollusks and fish, but nothing in comparison to the dangerous animals you find in Australia – never fear. We have sharks, as well, but apparently you have 50,000 times more chance of dying in a car accident here than being killed by a shark.

But back to jellyfish. Our six-year-old discovered its sting yesterday, when walking on his hands in the Baie des Citrons, not far from shore (six-year-olds regularly do this, walking on their hands in water; it comes with being six). He rose up within a second of being stung, shook his hand until it nearly fell off and ran screaming at the top of his lungs (“It stings! It stings! I’m bitten!”), out of the water.

At first sight, the skin at his wrist looked a little red. We took it in a towel and warmed it. Within minutes, white dots started appearing (as if the skin were flaking off) along the side of his hand. Quickly swollen and red (he was still screaming), welts appeared.

Unfortunately, as it is winter, there was no first-aid or lifeguard service on the beach (there is during the summer). We took Pablo to the shops and restaurants above the street and a friend offered to find a pharmacy. I later looked for a pharmacy, but could not find one on the stretch (the Baie des Citrons is about a kilometre long and is known for its restaurants, bars and hotels). There is, however, a clinic not far away.

Fortunately we were with a surgeon and father of three grown children who examined Pablo’s hand and said it looked like a cutaneous reaction to a sort of stinging nettle. He was great with Pablo and suggested we put ice on it.

We found ice at a local restaurant and ice cream at one of Nouméa’s better ice cream shops. He stopped screaming and we were able to numb the pain. The swelling went down and Pablo declared that it was “almost all better”. Later, I put some anti-itching cream on it. The picture here shows the sting 24 hours later.

With a bit of research, we’ve since learned that there indeed jellyfish in the bay (11 cases in the summer of 2007, for example), some more dangerous than others. We’ve also learned that the best thing to do is to soak or rinse the sting in white vinegar (the French call it a burn – which it looks like). Fresh water is not suggested (as it will spur the nematocysts to continue to release their toxin), but a rinse in sea water is. Advice varies on whether to use ice or warm water – both are suggested and discouraged on various sites.

What will we do next time? Look for jellyfish before we go in the water, wear water shoes, not walk on our hands unless we are sure it is safe, and maybe carry vinegar, a lemon or Safe Sea Jellyfish After Sting® pain relief gel (if I can find it here).

If you’ve had jellyfish stings or know of them in the bays here in Nouméa, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section. This was a new and relatively unpleasant discovery for us (but a great story to tell at school for a six-year-old). Until it happened, we’d never researched the dangers in the bays, and well, now we’ll be a little better prepared.

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5 thoughts on “Jellyfish in the Baie des Citrons

  1. I have just booked and paid AU$1,175.00 for tickets with your National Airline AirCalin. Unfortunately owing to an urgent medical problem I had to cancel my travels. Even though AirCalin had more than a months notice they are REFUSING A FULL REFUND !!! How can your national airline display such arrogance towards a visitor ???

  2. I was on holiday with my family on the isle of pines New Caledonia when I was walking through the water waist deep, as I was paranoid of fish and anything else touching me so I was constantly looking down.

    10 minutes after being in the water something stung the top of my leg, of course I freaked out and quickly got out. I had not seen anything so I had no idea what it was, my partner and son were snorkelling further out and had no idea what had happened. I was with my daughter at the time and very quickly hobbled to some locals for help but they could not understand me. I knew I then had to get back to the tender boat which brought us from the cruise ship… my daughter ran ahead of me telling the security on the dock what had happened and they said I needed to go back to the ship.

    I told my daughter to go back and let everyone know what had happened and I sat on the tender boat for 15 minutes in agony! The crewmen offered no first aid and would not leave for the ship straight away, people on the boat were extremely worried and voiced their concerns to the crewmen which made no difference. I can’t explain how scary the situation was being in a foreign country in pain without my family with me and not knowing what would happen… the top of my leg had started swelling up and now all of the stinger marks had come up, he got me good that’s for sure… finally about 40 minutes after being stung I was back at the ship in the hospital where they poured vinegar all over and applied a hot towel. Ten minutes later I ended up having an allergic reaction resulting in an epipen and a shot of antihistamine. My partner arrived on the next tender boat and was extremely upset that I was made to wait 15 minutes in pain on the boat before they left. He made a complaint with customer service and I ended up being sent chocolate strawberries?? It amazes me the lack of duty of care these men on the tender boat showed and customer service, they didn’t understand the severity of the situation and how dangerous it was… any longer and I might not be here

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