August 3, 2007

Jellyfish Woes at Hilton Head

Health officials in South Carolina say they have received thousands of reports of jellyfish stings in the past week from the Hilton Head Island area south of Charleston.

The Island Packet newspaper of Hilton Head Island said more than 3,000 beachgoers were stung by jellyfish in that area during the last week.

A check with officials at a few other Carolinas beach locations this morning indicated the jellyfish problem seems to be centered near Hilton Head.

Most of the Hilton Head-area stings have been in shallow water by sea nettles, a brownish saucer-shaped jellyfish with long tentacles, authorities told the Island Packet.

The sea nettle is one of several types of jellyfish which inhabit the coastal waters of the Carolinas. According to the Marine Sciences Division of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, most species of the creature are not dangerous.

But several varieties are capable of inflicting painful stings with barbs on their tentacles.

That appears to be the case near Hilton Head Island.

Mike Wagner, operations manager of Shore Beach Service, which provides lifeguards for Hilton Head Island, told the Island Packet that about 6,200 of the 6,300 jellyfish stings reported this year happened in recent weeks. On average, the island reports 10,000 stings a year.

"At times this week, everybody that was going in, was coming straight back out. We're hitting the peak right now, it seems," Wagner told the newspaper.

He said most stings were minor and felt like a bee sting.

According to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, jellyfish often are washed into the shoreline area after heavy storms. Beachgoers should keep their distance from the creatures, because jellyfish tentacles can trail more than a foot.

Also, dead jellyfish sometimes can inflict a sting.

Anyone stung by a jellyfish should remove the tentacles as soon as possible, because as long as the barbs are in the skin, they are inflicting poison.

The Island Packet, Associated Press and S.C. Department of Natural Resources contributed to this article.