Thursday, March 22, 2007

Australia And The Cone Shell

Very interesting article at National Geographic about research on marine toxins with an eye towards developing cancer treatments. One that has actually been approved is a pain killer that is 50 times more potent than morphine but not addictive. The drug is not available yet but will be called Ziconotide and is derived from Australia's venomous Cone Shell.
When you go swimming in Australia's seas you are warned about the Cone Shell. It shoots a dart (actually an elongated tooth) at it's prey (you) and that's it, instant death. I think they may have an antidote but there is no way anyone could get it to you fast enough to actually be of any use.
I loved Australia, and I'd go back in a heartbeat, but nature, in general, just seems to be a bit cranky there.
I think they have more poisonous snakes than anywhere else and in addition to the Cone Shell there's the Box Jellyfish to worry about. At certain times of the year there will be beach closures in many areas (like even after you ride your bike for an hour, there is a big ol' honking sign that says the beach, where you were planning to go swim, is closed because of them). They are pretty little fairy like things and, once again, they can kill you, though much, much slower than the Cone Shell. There are some beaches, during that time, that have great nets they string along in a section of water and you can swim within that enclosure (but we're not guaranteeing anything, a few may slip through and kill you or, if you're lucky, make you so extremely ill that you will curtail your swimming to chlorinated swimming pools thereafter). Also, don't swim in the rivers, there are Crocodiles. Don't dangle your feet in the water either cause they'll come right up and take off a foot (if you're lucky) or drag you right under, roll you over and stash you underwater somewhere till you're soft enough to eat.
When we were near the coast on, I think, Kangaroo Island, there was a place with a tumble of rocks where large waves crashed quite dramatically. There was also a sign that said, and I'm paraphrasing here: Don't go past this sign, it's really, really dangerous. There are bloody big waves that come out of nowhere to suck you off, and dash you against, the rocks and if that happens we are not coming down there to look for your body cause it's dangerous and we just told you absolutely, positively, not to go there. There was just the sign, no fence preventing you from climbing down like there would be here in the U.S. I found that refreshing, sort of like: Welcome to Australia, Land of Natural Selection.
Once in awhile, when we were cycling down the highways, there would be one of those, yellow, diamond shaped warning signs bearing just this symbol: ! I'm sure it meant: Attention! Warning ! Mind your Feet! Excuse Us But We Feel There Is Something In This Area You May Want To Be Aware Of So Slow Down And Beware! I felt like those signs pretty much summed up Australia in general.
But, like I said, I'd go back in a heartbeat.

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