Venomous Irukandji Jellyfish Kills Eco Bloggers

Kathreen Ricketson Irukandji jellyfishGreen Prophet recently reported about alarming surges in jellyfish populations in the Mediterranean Sea. No hand-wringing yellow journalism here, the phenomenon was scientifically assessed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. Odd timing. Shortly before that post appeared, a popular Aussie eco-craft blogger and her artist husband were killed by jellyfish as they snorkelled close to shore in Western Australia.

Kathreen Ricketson and Robert Shugg were fatally stung by irukandji, the world’s most venomous creature.  The tragedy made more horrific as it happened in sight of their young children on shore. Ricketson was pulled from the water and, as rescuers attempted resuscitation, Shugg slipped below surface.  His body was found on shore last week.

Ricketson and Shugg Irukandji jellyfishThe Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation reported irukandji jellyfish had been spotted there a month earlier, with an unprecedented number of people stung in April (13 confirmed cases, against previous records of about two cases a month).

Irukandji-Jellyfish killsIrukandji jellyfish measure about 2.5cm in diameter and extremely venomous. Australia does post beach signage at known areas of jellyfish infestation, but how to protect eco-tourists like Ricketson, Shugg and their 5000 Twitter followers who don’t always stick to controlled natural settings where warnings can be broadcast and beaches closed?

jellyfish warning sign IrukandjiThe family was four months into a year-long trip around Australia, documenting their travels as part of an online blog, with plans to publish a companion book titled The Family Road Trip. They lived in Canberra, where they published a kid’s e-magazine called Action Pack and, a leading voice in the online craft community.

Former Treehugger columnist Ricketson had used social media to promote her blog just hours before her death, linked to a jellyfish attack.  So terribly sad.  And terrifying. Short of earning a degree in marine biology, how do we stay safe in changing seas?

A trust fund has been set up for the couple’s children. Anyone wishing to contribute can find the details here.

Images of the Ricketson-Shugg family from the Action-Pack roadtrip blog; jellyfish warning sign from Shutterstock

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8 thoughts on “Venomous Irukandji Jellyfish Kills Eco Bloggers”

  1. McKenzie Smith says:

    The results were inconclusive

  2. Beau says:

    Hi Laurie
    I just came across your article – some minor clarifications you might be interested in.

    The term irukandji is used by Department of Environment and Conservation here in Western Australia to describe the symptoms of people who have been stung by jellyfish and not the species of jellyfish itself i.e. (Irukandji Syndrome). The Scientific Editor of Ningaloo Atlas (Nick Middleton) can confirm this if you wish. ph 08 9949 1805. The media got it muddled up.

    The cause of death for Kathreen Ricketson and Robert Shugg is also yet to be determined and at the time of writing (end June 2013) the results of their postmortems haven’t been made public. To say they died due to jellyfish “venom” is therefore bordering on speculation. In fact there are also rumours of foul play circulating – but these rumours are also speculation until the post mortem results are made public.

    One reason for the foul play rumours is because the number of jellyfish in the water in Ningaloo dropped off after April – it’s true the water temperatures were warm in Jan thru April – they always are – and there were more reported jellyfish stings than usual during this four month period. However the ocean had cooled down and returned to it’s normal cooler temperature by May – and when this incident happened the jellyfish numbers had already been waning for several weeks (in fact locals couldn’t catch any species of jellyfish even north of the site) For more information see the following article:

    Another reason for the suspicion of foul play is that it’s also extremely rare for two people to be simultaneously rendered unconscious by jellyfish stings at Ningaloo. And it’s also curious that none of the other swimmers at the same beach at the same time were stung or reported seeing jellyfish.
    That’s not to say it wasn’t jellyfish which left Kathreen face down unconscious – and her children definitely need our prayers and financial support – but as a rule it’s safe to snorkel at Ningaloo during the cooler water temperature months.
    Warmest regards Beau

    1. So the media, Wikipedia and hundreds of more sites get the name of the venomous jellyfish all wrong? Hard to believe:

  3. Reilly Capps says:

    Sorry, what’s your source on jellyfish being the culprit?

      1. Reader says:

        The very last sentence of that article:

        “Authorities have yet to confirm such a sting is what killed the two snorkelers.”

  4. Laurie Balbo says:

    Beautiful expressed, Michael – thank you.

  5. Michael Lehner says:

    That’s a terrible and awful thing to happen to nice people like them. It is amazing what effect the powerful venom of a small creature like that can have on us. We’re globally aware of so much more now than we were 20 years ago. And we are so much more capable to experience the beauty and danger of the earth firsthand. We learn about the good experiences and in this case, the sad news that some of these experiences can go horribly wrong. This is part of the legacy they leave us. We gain an understanding that these adventures can have unplanned outcomes. Here’s to these adventurers for what they did and for what we can learn from their experiences.

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