The jellyfish invasion has now reached the point where there may be little to do but find a way to live with huge numbers of them, scientists say. One researcher thinks the answer is to eat them, as Japanese and Chinese diners do.
MARINA di GINOSA, Italy — As a small boat loaded with wet suits, lab equipment and empty coolers drifted into the warm turquoise sea, Stefano Piraino looked back at the sunbathers on the beach and explained why none of them set foot in the water.
“They know the jellyfish are here,” said Piraino, a professor of zoology at the University of Salento.
While tourists throughout Europe seek out Apulia, in Italy’s southeast, for its Baroque whitewashed cities and crystalline seas, swarms of jellyfish are also thronging to its waters.
Climate change is making the waters warmer for longer, allowing the creatures to breed gelatinous generation after gelatinous generation.
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The jellyfish population explosion has blossomed for years but got a special boost since 2015 with the broadening of the Suez Canal, which opened up an aquatic superhighway for invasive species to the Mediterranean.
The jellyfish invasion has now reached the point where there may be little to do but find a way to live with huge numbers of them, scientists like Piraino say.
Jellyfish are still treated, literally, like trash. The European Commission’s research and innovation branch recently considered jellyfish blooms, along with aquatic debris and pollution, a form of litter that posed “huge and increasing problems in the oceans, seas and coasts.”
The commission made funds available for researchers with innovative methods to clean the waters. Piraino and his team have answered the call.
Convinced that climate change and overfishing will force Italians to adapt, as they once did to other foreign intruders, like the tomato, his team has launched the Go Jelly project, which roughly boils down to: If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em.
The study, which officially gets underway in January, will attempt to show that the enormous and increasing jellyfish biomasses can be the inexhaustible Jell-O of the sea.
While overfishing, warmer seas and pollution may wipe out ocean predators, they are allowing jellyfish to thrive — and reproduction comes easily enough to jellyfish.
They can be self-reproducing hermaphrodites, clone themselves, lay up to 45,000 eggs a day,…