Marine biologists report outbreak of Portuguese Man-o-War

An outbreak of Portuguese Man-o-War jellyfish around the Maldives has sent guests at many of the country’s upmarket resorts out of the water and back to their villas.

The creatures, which can give a nasty sting, have been reported appearing in lagoons and housereefs around islands in atolls including North Male Atoll, Baa Atoll, North Ari Atoll and Gaaf Dhaal Atoll.

Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru reported a brief outbreak, while Huvafen Fushi in North Male Atoll has had the creatures washing up on the beach for eight days. Kuramathi in North Ari Atoll has also been affected.

Marine biologist Verena Wiesbauer Ali said seasonal outbreaks were not unusual. The creatures were not native to the Maldives reef ecosystem but swarms of them could become trapped by the reef and end up on the beach, she said.

“They can still sting for quite some time on the beach if the cells in the tentacles are still active, which can affect guests walking [barefoot],” noted Wiesbauer, who coauthored a first aid guide together with Dr Jens Lindner and Dr Reinhard Kilinger to the country’s toxic marine life after she was stung by a purple jellyfish while swimming, and was asked by an island doctor why she had eaten one.

Despite its appearance the Portuguese Man-o-War was not really a jellyfish, she explained, and that the usual treatment for jellyfish stings – vinegar, urine or alcohol – could discharge more of the toxic nematocysts in the sting.

Hot water was the recommended treatment for protein-based toxins, such as those from the Portugese Man-o-War or stonefish, she said.

“Clinics should have supplies of anti-histamine because the itching from a sting can be extreme. Applying ice for a few minutes can stop it from spoiling a holiday,” she added.

“Hotels have a duty to inform tourists when there is an outbreak, as someone stung may sue the hotel. It’s also important for snorkelers to understand the risk, and protect themselves with long sleeves – even thin cover is effective, although obviously this does not cover the face.”

Marine Biologist at Kuramathi Resort and Spa in Rasdhoo Atoll, Laura Riavitz, said the outbreak at the resort was worse than last year, “when there was a day when you wouldn’t even stick your toe in the water.”

“We are informing people on welcome and have put out notices at the main reception and the dive school, being careful not to panic people and asking them to wear rash vests,” she said.

Riavitz was herself stung by one last year: “It began very painfully, like a burning sensation on the skin. Sometimes you can’t see anything and don’t know what it is. The most important thing is not to scratch it, otherwise the sting can be carried to other parts of the body, such as the face,” she said.

The Portuguese Man-o-War did not move under its own power, and instead drifted with the currents using a gas bladder and with its tentacles stretching out behind it, she explained.

The creature was normally eaten by predators such as sea turtles, she noted, “although at the moment there are not enough predators to keep the numbers down.”

Any sightings of the Portuguese Man-o-War or reports on the success or failure of treatment can be reported to [email protected]