Jellyfish blooms are booming, and the rapid rise of the stinging, gelatinous sea creatures that every beachgoer loves to hate could be a huge warning sign. Jellyfish expert Lisa-ann Gershwin has recently published a new book called Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean which warns that our oceans are in big trouble.
During her book tour, Gershwin has spoken out about the problem, telling Canadian media this:
“I think it’s a very scary thing that we could be heading back to a situation where jellyfish are dominating the oceans.”
Jellyfish are extremely primitive organisms that lack a brain. They last dominated the world’s oceans during the Precambrian era — when reptiles and mammals didn’t even exist. However, Gershwin pointed to the death of the Black Sea as an example of what could happen worldwide.
An introduced species of jellyfish entered the heavily polluted Black Sea in the 1980s and took over. It didn’t just outcompete the more advanced lifeforms, which are more vulnerable to ocean warming and pollution. The jellyfish population boom also ate almost everything that higher animals could use from vertebrates like fish to primitive plankton.
According to Gershwin, after the bloom 95 percent of the life remaining in the Black Sea was that single species of jellyfish.
In late May, the United Nations released a report that included much the same warning. They said that overfishing of top predators was allowing jellyfish to bloom and then to overgraze the oceans.
If the situation is not reversed, the world’s oceans will become empty of fish and replaced by jellyfish — with the Black Sea disaster being replicated worldwide with disastrous effects on the human food supply.
The JEDI group at Jellywatch.org said that the damage to fisheries and tourism has been localized so far. That means there is still time to act.
In the past JEDI has also suggested that the threat of jellyfish blooms devouring the ocean has been overblown in the media.
They are now working to get more accurate data about the extent of the real threat posed by jellyfish blooms.
[jellyfish photo by Andrea via Flickr and Creative Commons]