Funding cut to deadly jellyfish research may put QLD at risk

AS funding cuts put an irukandji jellyfish research project at risk, there are fears Queensland's reputation as a safe destination could be jeopardised.

A team of scientists developing a forecasting system for jellyfish infestations from the CSIRO's Hobart office was expected to finish up yesterday (Monday) after it was axed in the May Federal Budget.

Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin told The Mercury newspaper that her research - which she believed could save lives and millions in tourism dollars - needed $500,000 in private-sector funding to continue.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief Daniel Gschwind told APN that visitor safety was an important attribute of a destination.

He said issues with irukandji jellyfish was a new phenomenon the tourism industry was encountering more often and they needed science-based information to ensure visitor safety.

"Queensland has a reputation as a very safe and caring destination that knows how to look after its visitors," he said.

"We don't know a lot about (irukandji).

"When you have information gaps and ignorance, these gaps become filled by fear and trepidation.

"We need to make sure we have the right information to be informed.

"The work that's been done over past years, including by Lisa-ann Gershwin, has been helpful to put us in a better position to be proactive about it.

"There's a suggestion that there's more of them and they're further south and therefore more likely to cross paths with visitors who snorkel and swim in the ocean.

"We don't know if it's true, but we need to find out, know more about the biology of these creatures and learn what causes the reaction in some people that are stung."

There were four deaths in North Queensland coastal areas between 2002 and 2006 but APN believes there has been none since.

Mr Gschwind said there had been stings but no fatal outcomes for many years.

He said it was difficult to quantify how much money the Queensland tourism industry would lose if its perception as a safe destination was lost.

"It contributes to the overall impression of a destination," he said.

"It takes a lot to get that reputation."

Dr Gershwin, who has discovered and classified nearly 200 new jellyfish species, said it was scary to think lives could be lost because her project was axed.

"Somebody said to me that it's probably going to take another fatality to get this off the ground. But I hope with all my heart that isn't true," she told The Mercury.



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