When 22-year-old Anushree Arora travelled to the sun-sand-surf-susegad state of Goa in India from her home city of Mumbai earlier this month, she expected her family vacation to make up for the shitty year they’d all gone through. But the clothing brand owner did not expect her beach time to be as painful as it turned out.
“I was diving and we were swimming with a bunch of jellyfish throughout the dive,” she told VICE. “It was like a game where you had to keep dodging the jellyfish. But suddenly, just when I was on the surface and swimming back to the boat, I got stung on my butt by a jellyfish. We applied vinegar and then a calamine lotion. I even took painkillers but it felt like nothing worked. It stung a lot for 24 hours and only after did the pain subside. I even got stung on my ankle but that was okay within a couple of hours.”
Arora is not the only one with jellyfish sting stories adding to all the pain that 2020 has come with. Just in the last couple of days, over 90 cases of jellyfish stings have been reported from the sunshine state—according to Drishti Marine, a private lifeguard agency hired by the Goa government to man the state’s popular beaches.
“Over the past two days, the Baga-Calangute beach belt witnessed over 55 cases while the Candolim to Sinquerim beach stretch saw 10 cases,” Drishti Marine said in a statement. “South Goa reported over 25 cases of jellyfish related accidents requiring immediate first aid.”
Jellyfish stings can lead to itching, angry rashes, intense pain and whiplike lash marks. The long tentacles trailing from the beautiful and deadly jellyfish can inject you with venom from thousands of microscopic barbed stingers. “It's like someone constantly trying to poke you with an injection in the same spot over and over,” Arora explained. More severe reactions can also bring on nausea, breathing difficulties, heart problems and in very extreme cases, coma or death—though these are rare.
“In one particular incident which occurred in Baga, a male who went parasailing developed chest pain and experienced breathing difficulty after being stung by a jellyfish,” the Drishti Marine statement said. “As he was short of breath, oxygen was administered while an ambulance was called for and the victim was rushed to the hospital.”
While Friends might have you believe that peeing on a jellyfish sting is the easiest way to deal with it, this can actually aggravate the stingers into releasing more venom. The best way to deal with a sting if you find yourself in the unenviable position is to clean it with saltwater, vinegar or acetic acid. This rinsing deactivates the pesky nematocysts which contain venom stored in the jellyfish skin cells. Remove the visible tentacles with a tweezer, wash the area off with seawater (and not fresh water) or vinegar, pop an oral antihistamines, take a hot water shower and if angrier reactions show up, pay a visit to the doctor.
As restrictions get relaxed, state borders stay open and with people generally and carelessly getting over their fear of the virus, the state of Goa has seen an influx of tourists thronging its beaches to enjoy their newfound freedom. Online travel agency ixigo said bookings for Goa have jumped by 74 percent, and inquiries by 66 percent in October, from a month ago, according to a report in Moneycontrol. As holiday season picks up and international travel remains a far-fetched dream, Indians are thronging the coastal state known for its beaches, nightlife, and most importantly, a (sometimes misplaced) sense of freedom to do what they feel like doing—something most of India doesn’t have.
“As crowd density along the beach is increasing with the number of tourists entering the state, constant announcements and cautioning is done by the lifesavers to warn beach goers about the jellyfish in the waters.” Drishti Marine said.
Jellyfish invasions on Indian beaches are not rare—or even around the world for that matter. Their propensity to breed fast is actually causing an ecological mayhem around the world, causing power plants to shut down, disrupting the food chain and jeopardising fisheries and tourism. Goa itself has seen jellyfish attacks on several occasions over the years. Many experts say the explosion in their numbers has to do with climate change since they thrive in warm, polluted waters. And the recent stories of Goan tourists is yet another reminder of how destructive human activities can come back to bite us in the ass. Sometimes, quite literally.
Follow Varsha on Instagram.