June 27, 2017, 10:10 pm
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Marine biologist needed to study jellyfish

A VISIT to Cauayan, Negros Occidental was made by SUAKCREM staff on April 11, 2017 to review the status of the preliminary study headed by Dr. Ely Alcala of toxic jellyfish reported to have caused human poisoning. Demer Paglomotan, a Silliman graduate student in Education from Central Philippine State University, who is a member of the research team, briefed us on the preliminary results of the study. 

According to Paglomotan, the research team interviewed the families of the victims who died of the poisoning and the survivors of the envenomations and recorded a total of 35 victims, of which 11 died and 24 survived, during the period 1990 to 2016. Of the 11 fatal cases, 6 occurred in the Poblacion and 5 in the adjacent Barangay Tiling. The victims were mostly fishermen but bathers in shallow water were also victims.

As far as I know, the medical authorities of Cauayan town have not been active in finding ways to prevent further envenomation by toxic species found in the marine waters of Cauayan. 

There is some doubt about the identification of the causative organism or organisms. When some surviving victims were shown the picture of the box jellyfish, Chironex fleckeri, they readily agreed that that it was the species that caused the envenomation. But still, there is a need to re-identify the offending species by collecting specimens of possible toxic species and comparing them to the pictures in published scientific papers that show their diagnostic characters.

The research term was not able to find the causative organism late last year (December, 2016), so it is assumed it is found in deeper water. But it also swims in shallow water as evidenced by cases of people bathing in shallow water being stung.

If the box jellyfish indeed occurs on the sandy substratum in deeper water the best way to collect it is to use a dip net tied to a long pole. This way there is no need to scuba-dive to get close to it. But the collectors should be ready to scuba-dive if necessary to collect the presumed offending species. Collectors should be aware that there are venomous jellyfishes other than the box jellyfish in tropical waters. One of them is the Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish, which occurs in the Philippines. 

Further study of the problem of toxic marine species should be undertaken by the research team with the cooperation of the whole town of Cauayan. The Cauayan River as source of freshwater could favour the reproduction of the toxic species. The substratum of the marine area is sandy, another factor that should be looked at. The seasonal activity is still another aspect of its ecology which should be studied. What is the role of the northeast monsoon in the life cycle of toxic species? How can populations of toxic jellyfish be controlled? 

Finally, what is the reaction of the people of Cauayan as a whole? This can be a gauge of how people of the town view the role of their environment in providing the best environment for decent living. In fact, another issue takes great importance in the town, and this is the degradation of an extensive coral reef ecosystem in Caliling that no longer functions to provide benefits for the people and have lost the potentials for tourism which could increase incomes of coastal populations.
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