Three months ago, after three years apart, Nick Guinumtad was finally reunited with his family – his wife, Agnes and his two children, Mark and Nickole.

The foursome had been apart due to Covid border closures, with Mark, Agnes and Nickole in the Philippines and Nick in Mackay. The family was finally reunited in December 2021 with Mark, Agnes and Nickole joining their dad in Far North Queensland. 

However, last weekend, Nick witnessed his 14-year-old son pass away before his eyes after he was killed from a fatal box jellyfish sting. 

Fatal box jellyfish sting in Mackay

14-year-old Mark and his family were at Eimeo Beach, just north of Mackay on Saturday, 26 February. He was standing in waist-high water for about 10 minutes when he came running out to the beach, entwined in more than 2 metres of box jellyfish tentacles.

Beach-goers watched as the young boy staggered out of the water and surf lifesavers and critical care paramedics treated the boy. 

Jenny Rees from Surf Lifesaving Queensland said volunteer lifeguards did everything they could.

They got him out of the water and he had lots of tentacles around his legs, which they pulled off. A lot of vinegar was administered and CPR was administered immediately.”

Watching this tragic scene unfold was Mark’s mum, dad and sister. His heartbroken mum tells The Daily Mercury,

I could see my son’s face, and I could feel the pain. I kept praying and praying, I didn’t stop praying. I prayed that he would say something.

It’s hard, to see your son trying to overcome it, it’s hard, to see your son dying in front of you.”

The teen was transferred to Mackay Base Hospital but died due to the severity of the stings. A report is being prepared for the coroner. 

Beach closed until further notice 

Since the tragedy, Eimeo Beach has been closed and a triathlon scheduled for the beach has been cancelled, according to their Facebook page. 

box jellyfish sting death
Source: Facebook

While most beaches in Far North Queensland have stinger nets in place, Eimeo Beach doesn’t due to changing tides. Additionally, stinger nets aren’t 100% effective in keeping jellyfish out of the swimming zones. 

Lisa-Anne Gershwin, who has been researching marine stingers for more than 30 years, said while dragging a beach to check for the presence of stingers was common practice, it was not enough.

She told ABC News, 

What that means is that in that precise column of water at that precise moment in time, that we didn’t actually catch any that weren’t able to outrun the net.

We’ve known for some time that it’s not enough … and now a young person and their family has paid a terrible, terrible price.”

Most venomous animal in the world

Box jellyfish are believed to have caused at least 69 deaths since record-keeping began in 1883. They are considered the world’s most venomous animal, with people dying in as little as two minutes after being stung. 

Dr. Gershwin said once barbs deployed the venom it was incredibly painful, and that’s when people faced the biggest threat.

You instinctively jerk away from it and that spooks the animal, so they reel in their tentacles. When you start struggling the jellyfish gets caught up in your legs and it starts panicking and accidentally wraps around your legs.

Millions of barbs carry tiny payloads of very lethal toxin, which goes into the skin and rapidly travels to the heart. It actually locks the heart in a contracted state.”

What to do if you get stung

Health authorities advise people to call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and start the following first aid:

  • Put plenty of vinegar on the jellyfish stings. This stops any nematocytes that haven’t already fired venom from firing. If vinegar is not available, wash with sea water.
  • Carefully remove the tentacles from the skin.
  • If the person is unconscious, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Keeping safe when swimming

As Mark and his family were new to FNQ, they may not have realised how dangerous it is to swim during stinger season (November to May). 

It’s so important to only swim in stinger nets and never when the beaches are closed. Plus, always wear a stinger suit. Yes, they look strange, but they keep you protected and that’s what matters. 

Our thoughts go out to Mark’s family during this tragic time. 

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