Planning a day at the beach? Watch out for jellyfish!

by Lorraine Williamson

MADRID – With its warm climate and almost 5,000 km of coast, Spain is the ideal country for a wonderful beach holiday. However, there is one downside that can ruin a nice day of baking on the Spanish costa: jellyfish. 

Every year, hundreds of swimmers on the Spanish coast are stung by jellyfish. According to the Spanish Ministry of the Environment, there has also been an increase in the number of jellyfish in Spain in recent years. How can you enjoy a carefree day at the Spanish beach without being bothered by these scary, slippery creatures? 

What are jellyfish? 

Jellyfish are simply built animals that mainly occur in the sea. They have an umbrella-like structure with long tentacles containing millions of so-called stinging cells. In defence, these stinging cells will fire a kind of small harpoon, often filled with poison. This can also still happen in the first few hours after the animal is dead. Therefore, be careful of  one lying on the beach. 

Most jellyfish stings are quite harmless, but some are more dangerous than others. And in some people, a sting can cause an allergic reaction. But even an otherwise harmless bite can simply be annoying, because of the pain or itching that it entails. 

Where and when do jellyfish occur in Spain? 

Jellyfish are mainly found in Spain on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Visitors to the beaches in Andalucia are particularly affected (and specifically in the provinces of Almería and Málaga). But there are also many jellyfish in Valencia, Catalonia and on the Balearic Islands. Summer is truly jellyfish season. They are driven to the coast by the current and the wind in the Mediterranean Sea. August in particular is a notorious jellyfish month. 

Fried egg 

The most common jellyfish in Spain is the so-called Cotylhoriza Tuberculata, which is popularly called ‘huevo frito’ (fried egg) because of its appearance. A sting from this jellyfish can cause pain, itching and, in the worst case, inflammation. In addition, in recent years there has been a noticeable growth of the so-called Portuguese Caravel. Strictly speaking, this isn’t a real jellyfish (it’s actually several organisms working together) but it does look a lot like it. It owes its name to the resemblance to an old Portuguese warship. Unlike the real jellyfish – which mainly swim underwater – this species remains on the surface and moves with a kind of ‘sail’ that sticks out of the water. A sting from this fake jellyfish can also ruin your day. 

How can you prevent a jellyfish bite? 

The simplest tip, of course, is: don’t go swimming. As long as you don’t go into the sea and don’t walk too close to the waterline, you have very little risk of getting a jellyfish sting. Jellyfish never get much further than the waterline. 

But not going swimming is not an option for many people. After all, why travel thousands of miles to a Spanish beach if you don’t go swimming? However, if you do want to go into the water, keep the following tips in mind: 

  • Watch the flags. On the Spanish beaches, yellow flags or sometimes even special jellyfish flags warn when there are many jellyfish. 
  • Of course, in the current digital world, apps can also be downloaded that indicate where many jellyfish occur at that moment. Well-known apps are Infomedusa (which mainly focuses on the Málaga region) and MedusApp. You can download it from the Appstore or GooglePlay. In these apps you can not only see where they occur, you can also report it yourself if you come across some – for example by sending a photo. The apps are in Spanish. 
  • There are also sun creams that protect against stings. Safe Sea is a well-known, environmentally friendly brand. This cream contains a substance that prevents a jellyfish from recognising humans as a dangerous organism and thus will not defend itself with a bite. 
  • If you do get bitten: keep the site of the bite under salt water and sand. Vinegar on the bite can also help make the venom less active. Do not rinse the bite with fresh water or alcohol, as this can speed up the spread of the venom! If you continue to suffer, visit a doctor or a Red Cross post on the beach. 

Also read: Jellyfish alerts

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