Every summer millions of Israelis and tourists head to the beaches along the Mediterranean coast looking for relief from the blazing Middle Eastern heat but a growing menace is keeping them out of the water.
Jellyfish or Meduzot as they are called in Israel have begun their annual migration up the coast and the situation is becoming more serious each year.
Omri Gal from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority tells Digital Journal this species of Jellyfish is not native to the Mediterranean but that the problem began about 20 years ago when they migrated from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal. The problem continues to get worse because they don't have any natural predators, their biggest threat is the Green Sea Turtles whose numbers have dwindled to only 450 in the entire Mediterranean because of overfishing that ended in the late 1940's, pollution and beach development along the coastlines that have destroyed their nesting habitat. The Green Sea Turtles are now a protected species but some are still lost when they accidentally get caught in fishing nets.
Gal says "because there are so many jellyfish the venom is actually in the water so even if you don't get stung, you still feel it." And even a barefoot stroll along the beach can be hazardous if you accidentally step on one of the many jellyfish that wash up on shore.
Israel Nature and Parks Authority
Jellyfish warning sign at Beit Yanai Beach, Israel
Swimmers are being warned to stay out of the water with each new wave of the gelatinous marine creatures. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has started a pilot project at Beit Yanai Beach south of Netanya with a billboard to warn beach goers of the level of risk each day, from none to some to many, based on reports from the Meteorological Service, that monitors the Jellyfish as well as the sea conditions as well as from beach goers and park officials. Gal says they will see how successful the program is before expanding it to the rest of the coastal beaches. A group of volunteers has also set up the Hebrew website Meduzot that is constantly updated with the latest information about the situation.
It is a huge problem for Israel that expects 4 million tourists to visit this year. Tel Aviv has been ranked among the top 10 beach cities in the world by National Geographic, and there are fears this could affect one of the country's main industries.
But it isn't just a nuisance for beach goers, the large jellyfish that measure 20-60 cm long are also a menace to commercial fishing and for the country's hydro electric generation. The Jellyfish get sucked in with the seawater used to cool the turbines that supply most of Israel's power. Last summer Rafi Nagar, Chief Maintenance Officer at the Israel Electric Corporation was quoted on the msnbc world blog page saying "When we suck the water, we also suck the jellyfish, and if we let them go through the filters, they can cause the plant to shut down, leaving millions of Israelis without electricity.” Each night on the evening news workers covered from head to toe to protect themselves from the stings, are seen using iron poles to pull hundreds even thousands of jellyfish from the filters. Calls to Nagar this week have gone unanswered, I guess he has bigger fish to fry.
If you do get stung, what can you do about it? Well it seems all those home remedies you've heard about like urine (remember Monica from Friends), vinegar, alcohol and baking soda are not as effective at relieving the pain than hot water and lidocaine according to a 2010 study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. But of course the best advice is to heed the warnings and just stay out of the water.