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.