Since the start of the pandemic the use of single use plastics and waste has gone up exponentially. Contrary to how so many massive factories and pollutants were shut off in the start, clearing up waterways and halting C02 emissions. Plastic pollution has risen drastically in the last few months, so much that it has surpassed the number of jellyfish in the Mediterranean Sea.
Jellyfish are one of my favorite species, flowing and gently gliding through the currents, going with the flow and letting the tide take them wherever. It was about a year ago I was in Morocco, surfing beautifully peeling right hand waves, when I looked around me and I was suddenly surrounded by what I soon learned to be a jelly bloom. Hundreds of jellies appeared at the beach, drifting with the currents and the changing of tides, they made their way close to shore. I slowly sat up on my knees, careful not to let my legs in the water for fear I would get stung, although unfortunately it didn’t work and a jellyfish got stuck to my leg, leaving a scar that a year later began to fade. The next morning my dear friend and I walked down to find that same beach covered in thousands of jellies, the bloom had washed ashore in high tide. At the time we couldn’t understand how or why it had happened but it is not unusual for blooms to wash ashore from changing winds and currents. Jellies however are affected by many different contributors yet they are an incredible species that have lived through more than scientists can comprehend.
Many, if not all of the creatures that roam the ocean have all evolved through the ever changing ocean and climate. Yet humans have done a disturbingly impeccable job at killing off so many creatures that have lived through more than we could ever know. Surviving through 5 mass extinctions, jellyfish are one of the greatest evolving species to date. Their gelatinous bodies have evolved three times and are primarily the reason they have come so far.
There is roughly 200 different species of jellyfish in the ocean, many having special abilities and tactics to surviving, but let’s start at the beginning. Jellyfish reproduce sexually and release what’s called planulae into plankton, basically their little babies. They float through the currents in the ocean until they land on coral, rock or any artificial substances. After only a couple days they then form into polyp, that is roughly 2mm big and feeds from plankton floating by. Polyp then reproduces asexually, it forms its own family of clones, and eventually it goes through the transition of strobilisation or transverse fission when it separates into its own body. In this stage, jellyfish they look like a very tiny stack of pancakes or cookies. Slowly, overtime they are released into the surrounding plankton, eventually growing into what we recognize as adult jellyfish. The polyp can release up to a thousand babies at a time, which is where jelly blooms comes from, as they seem to appear out of nowhere and all form into adult jellyfish at the same time.
After the polyp stage it takes a couple years for a jellyfish to fully mature and truly form into what we know and see in the ocean. Although there are certain types of jellyfish such as the compass, moon and barrel jellies that can reverse their growth. When the ocean conditions are not suitable or healthy for the jellyfish it reverses its development back to the polyp stage where it can basically wait out the storm until it is good for it to continue its life. Once it has reached its adult life, there are many other ways jellies show off their superpowers, such as using photosynthetic algae to neutralize the carbon intake of the lake or ocean. Thus using the algae as their own personal solar panels, benefiting both themselves and the water. Not only that but there are also many types of jellyfish that are bioluminescent, meaning in the darker waters they have a bright glow to them.
With all these amazing characteristics, jellyfish are an important part of the ecosystem, helping maintain carbon and oxygen levels in the ocean and lakes along with being an important food source for marine mammals, turtles, seabirds, fish and even other jellies. The population of jellyfish has risen due to an increase in many things such as, climate change, overfishing, over development in coastal cities, and nutrient pollution.
The main effect is not having predators to maintain and regulate the population of jellyfish, when there isn’t we end up seeing more jelly blooms. Overfishing is one of the main causes for depletion of those creatures, eradicating a larger mammal at the top of the food chain has a negative effect on what’s below it, just like the effect of loosing sharks has on the ecosystems. As humans it is critical that we veer away from eating, using and catching marine mammals as it is extremely detrimental to the way the marine ecosystem works. Taking out any creature in the ecosystem has a lasting negative effect on it as a whole.
Especially during this ongoing pandemic stray away from using single use plastics, if you need help or guidance visit my ‘What Can You Do Page?’ for useful tips on lessening your plastic consumption. Along with cutting back on seafood consumption that is produced or fished from large corporations, know exactly where your food is coming from. It is critical as humans to do our part and take care of this planet as we need it to be healthy to survive.