Sunday, August 3, 2008

Jellyfish Take Over Planet

In the end, the world will be left to the cockroaches, Wall*E, and the . . . jellyfish, which, as noted here last year, are exploding in population and spreading across the globe, as oxygen levels in oceans drop, their predators are over-fished, and waters warm:
Jellyfish, relatives of the sea anemone and coral that for the most part are relatively harmless, in fact are the cockroaches of the open waters, the ultimate maritime survivors who thrive in damaged environments, and that is what they are doing.

Within the past year, there have been beach closings because of jellyfish swarms on the Côte d’Azur in France, the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, and at Waikiki and Virginia Beach in the United States.

In Australia, more than 30,000 people were treated for stings last year, double the number in 2005. The rare but deadly Irukandji jellyfish is expanding its range in Australia’s warming waters, marine scientists say.

While no good global database exists on jellyfish populations, the increasing reports from around the world have convinced scientists that the trend is real, serious and climate-related, although they caution that jellyfish populations in any one place undergo year-to-year variation.

“Human-caused stresses, including global warming and overfishing, are encouraging jellyfish surpluses in many tourist destinations and productive fisheries,” according to the National Science Foundation, which is issuing a report on the phenomenon this fall and lists as problem areas Australia, the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, the Black Sea, Namibia, Britain, the Mediterranean, the Sea of Japan and the Yangtze estuary.

Scientists see the rise of the jellyfish as an ominous sign that something has gone seriously wrong in the delicate balance of life in the ocean. Does the future belong to faceless, mindless stinging goop? I guess we could adapt, like "Jellyfish Fukuda" in Japan, and start munching on the new crowds of jellyfish.

It's going to be a long century.