Tiny jellyfish may have stung couple in snorkelling tragedy

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An autopsy is being carried out on the body of a woman who drowned alongside her husband during a family trip to a remote beach in Western Australia, to see if she had been stung by a jellyfish.

Kathreen Ricketson was snorkelling at Elle's beach, south of Coral Bay last Wednesday with her husband, Robert.  

The couple's 10-year-old son raised the alarm when he saw both of his parents floating face down in the water. The body of Mr Ricketson has still not been found, despite an extensive search.

Coral Bay is at the southern end of the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef, which in April saw an unprecedented spate of stings by the tiny (5mm) but extremely venomous Irukandji jellyfish. There is speculation that it may be to blame for the deaths.

Last month the state's environment department warned swimmers around Ningaloo Reef to exercise extreme caution or stay out of the water altogether, after a number of people had to be admitted to hospital. It's thought that the jellyfish were brought south by the current and prevailed in the Ningaloo area due to the warm water temperatures.

The sting of the Irukandji jellyfish isn't usually fatal, although it can cause a severe reaction called Irukandji syndrome. Symptoms include extreme pain and excruciating muscle cramps, along with vomiting, severe headache and backache and breathing difficulties. Two people are known to have died in 2002 from stings, but it's possible that other deaths have occurred that were wrongly attributed to other causes.
 
The family, from Canberra, had been on a 12-month trip around Australia. The couple's son and his 13-year-old sister are being cared for by relatives.

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