Jellyfish invasion in South West waters could spoil beach visits
JUST when you thought it was safe to get back in the water ... along comes an invasion of stinging "jellyfish".
After an August washout, the Met Office is forecasting warm and sunny weather to tempt people on to the beach on Saturday.
But now the arrival of the Portuguese Man of War threatens to spoil summer's last hurrah.
Swimmers heading for the North Cornwall coast this weekend have been warned to watch out for the creatures, which can deliver a painful sting.
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They have a characteristic pasty-shaped transparent purple float and blue tentacles that can be tens of meters long.
"The Portuguese Man of War's tentacle-like polyps deliver an agonising and potentially lethal sting," Dr Peter Richardson, biodiversity programme manager, said.
"Because a stranded Portuguese Man of War looks a bit like a deflating purple balloon with blue ribbons attached, it may attract the curiosity of children.
"If you are visiting a Cornish beach this weekend it is well worth making sure you know what these animals look like and that no one picks them up."
The Marine Conservation Society and Cornwall Council said they had received reports of several Portuguese Man of War washing up on beaches in the county.
The first reports, last weekend, were from Portheras Cove near Penzance.
These were followed by similar sightings at Summerleaze and Widemouth beaches, further east on the north Cornwall coast.
The most recent reports were from Portheras yesterday morning.
"With earlier strandings in Ireland, these recent sightings could herald the arrival of more of the creatures as they get blown in from the Atlantic," Dr Richardson said.
The Portuguese Man of War (Physalia physalis) is only occasionally reported in UK waters. The last significant number of strandings was in 2009, although a few were reported on beaches in southwest Cornwall late last year.
The Portuguese Man of War is not a jellyfish but is closely related. It consists of a floating colony of hydrozoans – many tiny marine organisms living together and behaving collectively as one animal.
Rebecca Kirk, from Cornwall Council's public health and protection service, said: "A sting from these jellyfish may lead to an allergic reaction.
"There can also be serious effects, including fever and shock.
"Anyone who thinks they have been stung should seek medical attention immediately or contact NHS direct.
"Even though they are washed up on the beach they can still present a possible risk of stinging and parents are advised to ensure children avoid touching any washed-up jellyfish."
Anyone who spots a Portuguese Man of War should report it immediately, ideally with a picture, at www.mcsuk.org (follow the Wildlife Protection link) where a Jellyfish ID Guide including the Portuguese Man of War can also be downloaded.