jell hell. Credit: Dauphin Island Sea Lab In the Gulf of Mexico’s densest jelly swarms, there are more jellyfish than there is water. More than 100 jellies may jam each cubic meter of water.
To kick the jellies off, I found on the NSF site a great primer on jellyfish:
Gulf of Mexico
THE BIGGEST DEAD ZONE IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
The white sands and sparkling emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico’s beaches belie a dirty little (open) secret: a huge Dead Zone that is devoid of almost all life except jellyfish is expanding in the Gulf of Mexico. During the summer of 2008, the Gulf’s Dead Zone covered about 8,000 square miles, about the size of Massachusetts. It is expected to soon reach about 10,000 square miles.
CREATION OF THE DEAD ZONE
The Gulf’s Dead Zone is produced every summer by tons of fertilizer, sewage and animal wastes that are continuously dumped into coastal waters by the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. These pollutants do their dirty work by fertilizing huge algae blooms that decay through a process that robs Gulf waters of oxygen. Most sea creatures flee or suffocate to death in the Dead Zone’s oxygen-starved waters, leaving highly adaptable jellyfish to proliferate unrestrained by predators and competitors and to gorge on the Gulf’s bounty of plankton.
GROWING JELLYFISH POPULATIONS
The most abundant species of jellyfish in the Gulf are the sea nettle and moon jellyfish, which typically swarm over hundreds and perhaps even thousands of square miles each summer. Studies show that these species became significantly more abundant and expanded their ranges during the 1980s and 1990s. Moreover, since 2000, the Gulf has hosted invasions of several non-native jellyfish species, including the Australian jellyfish.
Signs that the Australian jellyfish is satisfied with its adopted Gulf home include its tendency to swell from its usual fist-size to the size of dinner plates in the Gulf. In addition, the Gulf’s population of Australian jellyfish is steadily growing and expanding its range; this species recently reached North Carolina.
Is it hyperbole to say devoid of almost all life? I mean, people still fish, there are still dolphins. Just not very much of anything.
New year, new thread, I’m on sabbatical from ITP, and starting almost 3 months of deep research out of town – in the Gulf of Mexico, and in Minneapolis for a new umbrella project called Making the Best of It. Here’s a nano description:
Making the Best of It is the umbrella concept for a series of regionally site-specific pop up food shacks and community dinners that feature a climate-change enabled (and often unwanted) edible indicator species, in order to engage publics in tastings and conversation about the risks of climate chaos, our business-as-usual food system, and the short term food innovations at our disposal.
March – I’ll be at CENHS at Rice University
April – Minneapolis, through northern.lights.mn
May – Rising Waters Confab, Rauschenberg residency Program, Captiva Island
In the Gulf, I’m focused on jellyfish as an edible signal species.
In Minneapolis, a team of awesome artists (Valentine Cadieux, Aaron Marx, Sarah Peterson) and I are working with Northern Lights to produce 13 months of programming around eating dandelions.
I’ll be logging research and development on jellyfish and the Gulf. Oh, and hopefully the Port of Houston. I’ve been working on the firewall of maritime shipping and “Harmonized System” code that keeps us from the oceans. there’s a show up at bitforms of this work Feb 14-Apr 3. It’s called MORE&MORE.
Animals that eat jellyfish also eat plastic bags
Animals that eat plankton or fish eggs also eat plastic pellets
Animals that eat fish also eat plastic.
Nurdles: Before - During - After (photos from flickr)
MSNBC posted a story on April 9, about leatherback turtles’ diet of plastic bags.
A new study looked at necropsy reports of more than 400 leatherbacks that have died since 1885 and found plastic in the digestive systems of more than a third of the animals.
Leatherback turtles are critically endangered and highly charismatic creatures. They are big, weighing 1,000 pounds or more, with shells that can measure more than 6 feet across. These peaceful creatures have had the same basic body plan for 150 million years.
Leatherbacks are also popular for what they eat: namely, large quantities of jellyfish. The problem is that plastic bags look a lot like jellyfish, and plastic often ends up in the oceans, piling up in areas where currents — and turtles — converge.
Plastic can block a turtle’s gut, causing bloating, interfering with digestion, and leading to a slow, painful death. “I can’t imagine it’s very comfortable,” he said. “Their guts weren’t designed to digest plastic.”
There are vast fields of trash floating in the world’s oceans, Sasso added. And leatherback turtles travel thousands of miles each year, giving them even more opportunities to come in contact with it.
“This is an animal that has survived many extinction events,” James said, “And now it’s got all these anthropogenic hazards to face.”
And there’ve been a spate of publications on the amount of plastic – both nurdles, which are plankton or fish-egg -sized industrial plastic pellets from manufacturing shopping bags, dollar-store articles, and construction material that ends up in the oceans, and consumer plastic (bottles, bags, buckets, etc), which breaks down into ever-smaller pieces but does not completely degrade. This stat is from 2001:
There is now six times more plastic debris in part of the North Pacific Ocean than zooplankton, the populous animal plankton that forms the base of the aquatic food chain.
– C. J. Moore, S. L. Moore, M. K. Leecaster and S. B. Weisberg (December 2001). “A Comparison of Plastic and Plankton in the North Pacific Central Gyre”, Marine Pollution Bulletin 42)
Granted this statistic has been rejected because it only reflects an analysis made in the Pacific Gyre, a confluence of currents and thus a concentration of the contents of what’s carried on them; but even so, the volume of plastics is not decreasing. Some solutions: don’t take plastic bags, get refillable canteens for water. Reconsider the purchase of synthetics which may discharge plastics on the manufacturing process. Consider what else you can do with the plastics you are about to throw in the garbage.
If fish are eating plastic nurdles, then so are we if we eat fish.
Here’s more nurdle info:
It’s spring break the oceans over.
Sign on beach in Australia. Credit: Dr. Jamie Seymour, James Cook University
Australia’s beaches regularly host many types of toxic gelatinous animals, including the notorious Portuguese Man-of-War and Chironex fleckeri, a type of box jellyfish that is the world’s most venomous animal; a Chironex can kill a person in under three minutes.
In addition, some species of potentially deadly box jellyfish known as Irukandji jellyfish are currently increasing in number in Australian waters, possibly because of climate change. These peanut-sized jellyfish are small enough to slip through nets that protect Australia’s beaches from their larger Chironex cousins.
–The National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation has published an extensive report on the Dead Zone/jellyfish connections, but I thought I’d quote the article’s description of the upsides of jellyfish:
ECOLOGICAL ROLES OF JELLYFISH
Plying the world’s oceans for over 500 million years, gelatinous creatures have influenced marine communities almost as long as marine communities have existed.
As prey, gelatinous creatures are eaten by seabirds, pink salmon, sun fish, turtles and other gelatinous creatures. (Animals that eat jellyfish are not impacted by their stings.) As predators, gelatinous creatures eat fish eggs and larvae, invertebrates, small, floating creatures called zooplankton and other gelatinous creatures.
Scientists are continuing to identify new ecological services provided by jellyfish. For example, recent studies show that the tentacles dangling from the Bering Sea’s large jellyfish provide hiding places for young pollock that are pursued by other predators but have grown too big for the jellyfish to eat.
…This last upside, while über poetic (Jellyfish-as-beaded-curtain; Quick! let’s duck out of harm’s way and hide in this undulating petticoat) does make me wonder if the upsides are outweighed by an anvil-load of problems.
Enter the Jellyfish Fantasy Hall at Enoshima Aquarium south of Tokyo and you will find yourself surrounded by dazzling swarms of gently pulsating creatures… Jellyfish, which have inhabited the world’s oceans in one form or another for over one billion years, come in a dizzying array of shapes, sizes and colors.
– from Pink Tentacle
Japanese sea nettle
It’s an interesting time to be celebrating these Ophelia-esque critters who mark so many things, from alien beauty to changing oceans (beautiful horror/reality in this LA Times editorial on “Altered Oceans“). It’s not surprising to find that the phrases “The Rise of Slime” or “Invasion of the The Jellyfish Blooms” read like science fiction.
Rising temperatures in the oceans are a root cause of these blooms, attributable to ocean acidity levels, toxic sewage and animal waste runoffs, fertilizer dumping (fish or land farming), overfishing and other pollutants. “The Rise of Slime,” a return to primordial oceans, is one descriptor of a Dead Zone, a drastic reduction in the ocean’s oxygen levels. Jellyfish are one of the only animals who can thrive in this climate.
The EPOCA/Ocean Acidification blog sums it up nice and heavy:
“They are calling it “the other CO2 problem”. Its victim is not the polar bear spectacularly marooned on a melting ice floe, or an eagle driven out of its range, nor even a French pensioner dying of heatstroke. What we have to mourn are tiny marine organisms dissolving in acidified water.
In fact we need to do rather more than just mourn them. We need to dive in and save them. Suffering plankton may not have quite the same cachet as a 700-kilo seal-eating mammal, but their message is no less apocalyptic. What they tell us is that the chemistry of the oceans is changing, and that, unless we act decisively, the limitless abundance of the sea within a very few decades will degrade into a useless tidal desert.”
Nomura bloom, in the expanding "Dead Zone"
Link to some info on the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, currently the largest in the world.
Link to more general information about Dead Zones and the jellyfish connection