A NAGGING worry of being stung by jellyfish is playing on the minds of 300 triathletes worldwide who have signed up for the first triathlon in Penang in 15 years.
This follows the change of venue of the 1.5km opening swim in the race from the Teluk Bahang Dam to the sea.
The original plan to hold the swimming course in the dam was scrapped after Pesta Penang Dragon Boat Race 2012 technical official Jacob Isaac Fletcher, 19, drowned during the event on Dec 9.
To allay fears of being stung, the organisers are spending over RM40,000 to construct a jellyfish barrier and hire experts to catch these blobs.
“The barrier will enclose an area of about 130,000sq m where the swim will take place. It is a special net that blocks jellyfish without harming the majority of marine life,” said Penang International Triathlon & Duathlon 2013 chairman Dr Lim Seh Guan.
The swim will be held at a sheltered bay near the former Mutiara Beach Resort.
Dr Lim said the barrier, measuring more than 1km long and 7m deep, would cordon the swimming course five days before the race, which would take place on March 31.
“We will deploy the barrier at low tide, when most of the jellyfish are usually farther out. After the barrier is up, experts will use a dual-layer trawling net to sweep the enclosed area every day until the morning of the event,” he added.
He explained that the dual-layer trawling net was used by marine researchers to catch jellyfish. The net can be adjusted to comb the whole water column.
Dr Lim was responding to fears surfacing on Facebook hours after the change of venue was announced on Dec 30.
The last triathlon in Penang took place in 1998. A massive jellyfish attack on the swimmers had brought that event to a halt, and there had not been another triathlon in Penang since.
“This is the first time I have seen a triathlon event spend so much to control a single hazard. However, we want to ensure that our participants can perform at their best,” he said in an interview.
He also said the organising committee would help participants purchase stinger suits from Australia and jellyfish lotions upon request if they wished for greater personal protection.
For added safety, event director Ben Woon said at least 10 scuba divers from the marine police would station themselves underwater throughout the swimming event.
“They will guard the swimmers from below while 20 tandem kayaks carrying a lifeguard and a paddler each will watch the surface,” said Woon.
He added that the Fire and Rescue Services Department would also provide two water scooters customised for marine rescue and a motorboat for quick deployment.
Participants will swim 250m out to sea and make two loops of 750m each.
Swimming course director Kelvin Tharm said swimmers would return to shore after the first loop and jog for 50m back to the starting point for the second loop.
“There will be a water station on the shore for swimmers after the first loop. The 50m-jog will help first-timers compose themselves before swimming out again. If they are stung by jellyfish in the first loop, they can get first aid before tackling the next loop,” he said.
Dr Lim also said the organising committee had sought advice from marine researchers at Universiti Sains Malaysia, who pointed out that the jellyfish population around the island had dropped since 10 years ago after the closing of the pig farm in Pantai Acheh and upgrading of sewage treatment in Teluk Bahang.
The triathlon includes a 1.5km swim, 40km bicycle race and 10km run, while the twin duathlon event will entail a 5km run, 40km bicycle race and another 10km run.