Having A Jelly Good Time!
Contributed by Tim Hochgrebe
recent Malaysia itinerary included a 2-day 2-night stunt to Redang Island in
the North East of peninsular Malaysia; escaping the Australian cold for a few
days and getting some dives in.
With me was young Matthew Weiss from DivePhotoGuide and we were both looking
forward to a few days away after the long hard days of MIDE (Malaysia International
Dive Expo) booth duties. Little did we know that the resort that had been arranged
for us was massive. From arriving at Terrenganu airport we were numbered, slotted
into rows, moved onto bus, then boat, then tractor ... then numbered again and
then joining about 500 other resort guests for buffet lunch before we were allowed
I did consider just ignoring this part or the trip in the write-up but from
a divers point of view there were a few lessons to be learned and I believe
these need to be shared. The resort offered snorkel trips twice a day and all
you had to do was hire the gear from the resort and the boat trip was free.
Which meant that 200 people went onto 5 or 6 boats all with life vests on and
out to snorkel.
Fins are not allowed when snorkeling the marine reserves of Terenganu Marine
Park as the past has showed massive amounts of coral damage by snorkellers standing
and walking on the fragile coral reef. We decided to give this event a miss
and go with the resort owned dive centre on a more intimate dive trip the next
morning that had only 10 people on it. I had brought no dive gear at all apart
from my trusted 'Nemo' and I was fitted in shorty and some reasonably decent
gear. At that point the fact there might be some jellyfish was mentioned, but
we shouldn't worry about that - so we didn't.
Out at the dive site we got ready and entered the water at what was going
to be a 20-metre 40-minute dive and on entering the water I could see swarms
of jellies with their long tentacles with red spots. The dive guides did not
seem to be to perturbed about the fact and we started our descent through the
jungle of jellies ... me trying to avoid getting touched by the nasty looking
tentacles. At this point I should mention that the dive guides / instructors
were wearing full wetsuits, hoods and gloves ... which I guess should have made
I survived for over 30 minutes without getting hit and Matt who had his own
full wetsuit looked worried, but kept diving too. When
the unavoidable finally happened I could not believe the pain ... one jelly
had managed to hit my left leg and ankle (the booties I got were low-cut ankle
We were still at 20 meters at that time and looking above me the dense jungle
of jellyfish seemed impenetrable. How would we ever get back to the surface
was what went through my head again and again. Then I heard Matt screaming underwater
... he got hit on his hand and looked in immense pain. I signaled the dive guide
I was going up and tried to make my way through the jungle ... the well-protected
guides tried to keep the jellies at bay with their steel pointers ... at some
stage I grabbed the pointer from one of the guides and tried myself to keep
my unprotected body parts tentacle free.
I somehow magically survived the ascent and safety stop without further damage,
but the pain from my leg and ankle was quite strong. Then
I heard Matt scream again ... he was hit again on his hand during the safety
stop. We climbed onboard cursing and looking at our battle scars. We found the
second group (which was a group of Open Water students) had their dive aborted
by their instructor... which in hindsight seemed like the ONLY reasonable thing
to do. After soaking my leg in a bottle of stinggoes (bless Australian technology
...) the pain temporarily subsided. Matt didn't stop cursing; his hand had swollen
up more than my leg at that stage.
We cancelled our second dive for that day ....
Later that day I had a chat to the dive centre staff about the incident, but
heard no excuses or apologies for the fact I was put into a shorty wetsuit through
a see of very painful jelly tentacles ... very disappointing.
Why do I write all this? I don't want to mention the name of the resort of
the dive centre but I believe it should suffice to say that wherever we go diving,
we will encounter excellent, good and not so good dive centres ... and some
should be able to trust the local knowledge of any dive centre to make decisions
of where to go and who to take, but we can't. In this situation despite 20 years
of diving experience, I trusted the dive centre staff to make the right decision
on continuing the dive or aborting it. Seeing the sea of jellies I thought to
myself if we continue through this, the stings can't be that bad and I followed
... I should have known better.
Four days later my legs are still covered in red itchy spots ... but I will
survive. Who knows, some other diver might have panicked at 20 metres after
being stung, and the result might have been a more tragic one. Would that be
negligent behavior of the dive center ... or would the waivers we signed save
them from any consequences, who knows?
All that said, this shouldn't deter anyone from visiting Redang or any of the
other islands of Terranganu. The island is beautiful and I was told the diving
is actually excellent normally. The jellyfish we were told had been around for
2 weeks only and it was 'the first time we ever see them here in Redang ...'