Australia is surrounded on all sides by majestic cliffs and beautiful beaches. We’re blessed with short winters and long summers. If you live on any part of the coastline, that translates into a few hundred days each year of gorgeous, predictable beach weather. Life is good downunder.

There are just a couple of minor beach-going glitches. Sharks, crocks and our end of the summer east coast special, the invasions of bluebottle jellyfish.

To protect Ozzies, and to keep from killing off all our tourists, Australia has taken great pains to section off portions of the pristine beaches with brightly-coloured *flags, often adding shark nets and all dutifully patrolled by well-trained, knowledgeable lifeguards.

And if you live in Australia, you know that every year, like clockwork, you can count on several play days being interrupted by schools of bluebottle jellyfish around February and March.

*Note: Prior to the year 2000, the Australian Tourism Board played special films on all incoming flights which showed the coloured flags and described the dangers of swimming on unmanned beaches. There was concern that tourists were killed each year from wandering away from the flagged areas and either drowning or being devoured by local denizen. An average of five+ tourist fatalities per year, actually, with more vacationers on the injured lists have been reported over the past two decades.

Just prior to the 2000 Olympics, with an estimated five million guests scheduled to arrive on our shores, the Tourist Board decided the warning film perhaps portrayed our beautiful beaches in an unnecessarily harsh light and pulled it in favour of a cutesy, family-friendly musical video showing all of Australia’s best features (including families playing happily on the beach between bright yellow and red flags) and which showcased the heart-warming song “We are one”. The informed narrative was omitted.

That year nine tourists didn’t use their return tickets.

I remember writing this to my sister a few months after the Olympics:

Dear Sis, It’s that time of year when Australia posts it’s stats on tourism and this past year we didn’t fair well in the ‘keeping them safe’ category. Nine tourists died playing in unprotected waters. But one good thing has come from it. The powers-that-be think they’ve uncovered part of the problem. See, most of our tourism business comes from Japan. In Japan, private properties which don’t allow public access are marked with brightly-coloured flags. Trespassing is a huge no-no. So when our non-English speaking Japanese friends lob onto our beaches and see the neon yellow and red flags, they are prone to turning right around to seek their own play spot, away from the forbidding flags. We’ve been, quite literally, doing them in with our handy visual aids.

Back to the jellyfish. This Portuguese man-o-war was nicknamed the bluebottle because when they wash up on the sand they look like blueglass bottles. In the water they are difficult for swimmers to see because of their transparency. One would be problematic enough, but there’s never just one. They travel in schools of thousands.

While their bodies are a mere 3-6cm (1-2 inches) across, their tentacles can grow to as much as 10 meters (32 ft) in length, and it’s these free-flowing tentacles that wrap around their prey, unleashing a stinging venom. To brush up against one bluebottle with bare skin causes instant, excruciating pain. To compound matters, it’s not uncommon for the tentacles to break off the host, their suckers attached to the prey. Trained lifeguards and medics have to pry the suckers off, while victims report being literally blinded by the pain. Pain which, by the way, persists for hours.

Today’s headlines tell of a few Gold Coast beaches where the ambos and lifeguards spent the day chasing people out of the water and taking injured swimmers to hospitals in a marathon-like relay race. Some beaches were closed for several hours each, but the east coast is experiencing a heatwave (31c or 87+ farenheit) so there are those who ignored the warnings in favour of cooling off.

One beach alone reported more than 300 injuries treated for the afternoon.

If you live in Australia you know about bluebottle jellyfish as surely as you know about crocodiles, brown snakes and red-backed spiders. Citizens don’t get to play the ‘uh, I didn’t know’ card. When you live in paradise, you know it doesn’t come without a price.

So here’s the thing that struck me today while listening to the news report on the numerous morons who ignored bluebottle warnings and dove into the sea anyway. It’s rather the same idea that strikes me whenever I hear about Ozzies surfing or swimming in dangerous waters and losing limbs to waiting sharks and crocks:

Is stupidity a part of natural selection and if it is, should we not just sit back and let those who certainly possess more than their share of the stuff remove themselves from our gene pool?

I’m just saying…

My computer rebuild a couple of months back woud have been far more effective had the motherboard not developed altzheimers or the CPU not coughed up a lung. Tomorrow my new system arrives so I’ll be uploading programs and sorting backup files for a few days.

Don’t do anything exciting until I get back!

To comment on this post, please scroll up to the title The Price of Paradise and click the word comment just beneath. Thanks, OzMud

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