If there's one thing jellyfish are good at doing, it's producing many more jellyfish, and lately, the world seems to be having one big jellyfish orgy. The gelatinous creatures are popping up everywhere that they don't belong and doing an excellent job of gumming things up, Quartz
How bad is it?
Pretty bad, as it turns out. Last year, Sweden's Oskarshamn nuclear power plant, which supplies 10 percent of the country's energy was forced to shut down one of three reactors after an invasion of moon jellies clogged pipes in the reactor's cooling system, according to this article
also published by Quartz. This is amazing when you consider the fact that moon jellyfish don't have brains and are 95 percent water. If there's only one or two of these then it's not too big of a deal, but moon jellies tend to swarm, and when they do, they can cause lots of problems.
"The [moon jellyfish swarm] phenomenon...occurs at regular intervals on Sweden's three nuclear power plants, Torbjörn Larsson, a spokesperson for E.ON, the company that owns Oskarshamn. Larsson wouldn't tell Quartz how much revenue was lost, but he did note that jellyfish also caused a shutdown in 2005.
Worldwide, coastal areas are suffering due to similar jellyfish blooms (the common name for these massive population explosions). Blooms are increasing in intensity, frequency, and duration, Lucas Brotz, a jellyfish expert at the University of British Columbia told Quartz.
Brotz researched 45 major marine ecosystems, and found that 62 percent of these ecosystems saw an uptick in blooms since 1950. In these areas, surges in jellyfish numbers have caused power plant outages, destroyed fisheries and gummed up the beaches that tourists frequent. However, historical data is scanty, therefore scientists aren't certain that blooms are on the rise.
One thing is certain, however. Huge swarms of jellyfish have disrupted power companies worldwide, including in Maryland, South Korea, and Scotland. The fishing industry has really been feeling the effects, and blooms have wiped out billions of dollars worth of earnings in the last few decades, Quartz reports. These swarms are a migraine-sized headache for fisherman, who are forced to deal with ruined nets and clogged trawl lines. The Nomura's jellyfish, an absolutely massive creature that grows to the size of a large refrigerator, capsized and sank a 10-ton trawler after the fishermen on board tried to haul up a net loaded with them.
Photo: Nomura's jellyfish
Tourism is suffering as well. In the summer of 2013, one million jellyfish washed up along a 300 kilometer (186 miles) stretch of Mediterranean coastline, thus shortening the swimming season for hundreds of thousands of tourists, The Guardian reported, per Quartz. At least 150,000 people are now treated for jellyfish stings each summer in the Mediterranean.
Surging jellyfish populations as a result of overfishing may be one reason why fish stocks observed in the Mediterranean and Black Sea are declining, the United Nations
reports. The UN published a report that suggests including jellyfish in fisheries management.
When an area is overfished, top predators are removed, thus creating optimum conditions for jellyfish blooms, the report noted. An increased number of jellyfish in these waters creates a "vicious cycle" because jellyfish prey upon fish eggs and larvae, and wind up competing for the same food source as the fish stocks that are already depleted due to overfishing.
If this trend continues, the UN noted, jellyfish may very well supplant fish in the world's oceans, and there may be a "global regime shift from a fish to a jellyfish ocean."
Global warming is also having an impact, according to the report, because it allows species that thrive in tropical latitudes to spread out, and the use of sea walls, which are built to prevent erosion, are excellent habitat for some jellies. These walls, bridges, ports, drilling platforms, and ship hulls are excellent places for polyps (an earlier stage in the jellyfish lifecycle) to colonize, as they are stationary at this point, Quartz reports. They've even been known to colonize plastic cigarette packaging.
So we are definitely giving jellyfish a leg, er, tentacle, up when it comes to survival.
What this also means is that two extremely venomous creatures — the box jellyfish and the tiny Irukandji — are showing up thousands of miles away from where they are normally found. Some are being found as far as Florida, Cape Town (South Africa), and even Wales, Quartz reports.
Venom from the box jellyfish is considered to be among the deadliest in the world, National Geographic
reports. These toxins attack the heart, nervous system, and skin cells, causing pain that is so overpowering that people have been known to go into shock and drown, or die of heart failure before they even reach the shore. Survivors experience severe pain for weeks and have deep scars where the creature's tentacles made contact.
Death usually occurs within four minutes, and this jellyfish kills between 20 and 40 people each year in the Philippines.
The Irukandji, a tiny cousin of the box jellyfish, is about the size of a sugar cube. However, whatever it lacks in size, it makes up for in sheer deadliness. It's stinger leaves no trace, and about 10 minutes after contact, victims suffer are variety of symptoms — lower back pain, non-stop vomiting, constricted breathing, and sometimes death due to brain hemorrhaging, extreme high blood pressure, or heart failure. One in five victims winds up on live support, National Geographic reports.
Overfishing and human-caused climate change are making it much easier for these amazing and beautiful creatures to proliferate, but the oceans are feeling the effects of all of this deadly beauty.
One thing is very clear — destructive human activity means this is a good time to be a jellyfish.