Jellyfish stings, swimmer’s rashes and bites from swimming in the sea can be painful.

Rashes, stings and bites can sometimes spoil your swim at Auckland beaches, especially as the water gets warmer.  Some beaches are affected more than others, but change from day to day. 

Rashes, stings and bites can be caused by a range of sea life, some of which are too small to see.  These include jellyfish and anemones, as well as crabs and sea lice. 

There are at least three types of jellyfish in New Zealand known to cause stings, but there are many types of jellyfish around Auckland’s shore which are harmless.

Even microscopic jellyfish can sting and, because they are so small and almost transparent, they can get trapped unnoticed in swimwear, or in people’s hair, while swimming. As a swimmer gets out of the sea, water drains from the swimwear and traps the jellyfish between the fabric and the skin, causing the stinging cells to release their toxin.

The rash (also called sea bather’s eruption) may not appear until well after the person has left the sea. The rash becomes itchy and sore, and can vary from mild to severe, lasting up to a week. Children and people with allergic reactions may get more severe reactions and can become unwell for several days with headaches, and feel sick and tired.

Larger Bluebottles and Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish sometimes occur around our coast.  They produce a nasty sting and people should stay out of the water if Bluebottle jellyfish are around. 

Crabs living in the sand can nibble your toes.  

Call 111 for an ambulance if you or someone else has been stung and has symptoms of a serious allergic reaction or anaphylaxis.

Treatment for Blue Bottle jellyfish stings:
Follow these steps to treat the sting area

  • Splash on lots of sea water straight from the sea immediately.
  • Pull the tentacles off with a dry towel. Use tweezers and gloves if you have some.
  • If you can, pour over warmed up sea water. You can put hot water into the sea water to add warmth.
  • Immerse the stung area in heated tap water for 20 minutes. Have it as hot as the person can bear. Or use a wet, hot towel.
  • Elevate the area, apply ice packs and take pain relief.

Note: Vinegar does not help with blue bottle stings.

Treatment for all other jellyfish stings: 
Follow these steps to treat the sting area

  • Apply sea water to the area. If you are able to warm up some sea water, pour this over the area (even urine is better than nothing!).
  • Do not apply fresh water as this will activate the stingers.
  • Pull the tentacles off with a dry towel. Wear gloves if you have some, but you can use your fingers – although wash them immediately afterward.
  • Immerse the stung area in heated tap water for 20 minutes. Have it as hot as the person can bear. Or use a wet, hot towel.
  • Elevate the affected area for 24 hours, and apply ice to decrease the pain.

(Ministry of Health)

  • Check Auckland Council’s Safeswim website for beaches affected by jellyfish.
  • Avoid swimming in baggy clothes, instead wear smaller, fitted swimwear such as bikinis or speedos, as these trap fewer tiny jellyfish.
  • Do not dry yourself with a towel after swimming if you think you may have been affected, as this activates the stings.
  • When you get home, thoroughly wash your swimwear, as jellyfish can sting even when dead.
  • Remove your swimwear and if possible, shower immediately. A saltwater shower is best, although a freshwater shower is almost as good.

Auckland Regional Public Health Service supports Auckland Council with messages regarding health and safety on beaches and when swimming.

ARPHS is a partner with Auckland Council for the Safeswim programme, which publishes information about the health risks from popular Auckland region beaches. The information on the Safeswim website is updated regularly and covers water quality, advice about sun protection, beach hazards, dangerous animal sightings and tidal conditions.



There are specific requirements for notifiable diseases in the Auckland region.

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Last updated 12.3.2019

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