Abstract

Marine stingers hospitalize approximately 100 people annually in tropical Australian waters, and are known to have caused at least 73 fatalities. Elsewhere in the tropical and temperate seas of the world, marine stingers pose a similar threat to human safety, and reported sting numbers are on the rise. Lycra body suits (“stinger suits”) have been used for stinger protection since the early 1980s, but have not been formally tested as a barrier against Irukandji (Carukia barnesi) tentacles. Other products are being used and developed; however, no safety standards currently exist for this widely used form of protective equipment. Eight products were tested with live C. barnesi: a Lycra stinger suit used by Surf Life Saving, a product developed by ROBIS Pty. Ltd. and marketed as “The Stinger Suit”, three different styles of nylon pantyhose, two sport products designed to “wick away” moisture and keep the wearer cooler, and a 0.5-mm neoprene wetsuit. Products were evaluated for seven common concerns relating to safety and practical wearability. Primary concerns, i.e., those relating to performance of the fabric in preventing stings, include: ease of penetration by jellyfish tentacles, adherence of tentacles or body to fabric, and potential for crushing through the fabric. Secondary concerns, i.e., those relating to overall usage as stinger-preventative clothing, include: durability or integrity of the barrier, whether the product is available as a one-piece garment, heat-retention properties, and product cost. In general, the tighter the fabric weave, the better tentacle exclusion, and the smoother the fabric, the more resistant to adherence. Lycra is vulnerable to crushing of tentacles through the fabric, but appears to be the best choice for routine-use stinger-protective clothing. Recommendations are made for safe use of protective clothing, as a basis for development of an Australian Standard in protective clothing for marine stinger safety.

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