13 December 2008

A plague of jellyfish

Huge swarms of stinging jellyfish and similar slimy animals are ruining beaches in Hawaii, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, Australia and elsewhere. Another report says says the Black Sea's fishing and tourism industries have lost $350 million because of a proliferation of comb jelly fish.

Some jellies eat the eggs of fish and compete with them for food, wiping out the livelihoods of fishermen. A third of the total weight of all life in California's Monterey Bay is made up of jellyfish.

While some jellyfish 'blooms' may be part of a natural cycle, "there is clear, clean evidence that certain types of human-caused environmental stresses are triggering jellyfish swarms in some locations." These include pollution, climate change, introductions of non-native species, overfishing and building artificial structures such as oil and gas rigs.

Jellyfish gone wild ruin tourist spots, report says
Reuters 13 Dec 08;
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Huge swarms of stinging jellyfish and similar slimy animals are ruining beaches in Hawaii, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, Australia and elsewhere, U.S. researchers reported on Friday.

The report says 150 million people are exposed to jellyfish globally every year, with 500,000 people stung in the Chesapeake Bay, off the U.S. Atlantic Coast, alone.

Another 200,000 are stung every year in Florida, and 10,000 are stung in Australia by the deadly Portuguese man-of-war, according to the report, a broad review of jellyfish research.

The report, available on the Internet at http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/jellyfish/index.jsp, says the Black Sea's fishing and tourism industries have lost $350 million because of a proliferation of comb jelly fish.

The report says more than 1,000 fist-sized comb jellies can be found in a cubic yard (meter) of Black Sea water during a bloom.

They eat the eggs of fish and compete with them for food, wiping out the livelihoods of fishermen, according to the report.

And it says a third of the total weight of all life in California's Monterey Bay is made up of jellyfish.

Human activities that could be making things nice for jellyfish include pollution, climate change, introductions of non-native species, overfishing and building artificial structures such as oil and gas rigs.

Creatures called salps cover up to 38,600 square miles (100,000 sq km) of the North Atlantic in a regular phenomenon called the New York Bight, but researchers quoted in the report said this one may be a natural cycle.

"There is clear, clean evidence that certain types of human-caused environmental stresses are triggering jellyfish swarms in some locations," William Hamner of the University of California Los Angeles says in the report.

These include pollution-induced "dead zones", higher water temperatures and the spread of alien jellyfish species by shipping.

(Reporting by Maggie Fox, editing by Philip Barbara)

Massive Jellyfish Swarming Hawaii, Gulf Of Mexico And Other Locations
ScienceDaily 12 Dec 08;
Massive swarms of stinging jellyfish and jellyfish-like animals are transforming many world-class fisheries and tourist destinations into veritable jellytoriums that are intermittently jammed with pulsating, gelatinous creatures. Areas that are currently particularly hard-hit by these squishy animals include Hawaii, the Gulf of Mexico, the east coast of the U.S., the Bering Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, Australia, the Black Sea and other European seas, the Sea of Japan, the North Sea and Namibia.

Massive jellyfish swarms--some of which cover hundreds of square miles--have caused injuries and even occasional deaths to water enthusiasts, and have caused serious damage to fisheries, fish farms, marine mines, desalination plants, ships and nuclear power plants. Since the 1980s, jellyfish swarms have cost the world's fishing and tourism industries alone hundreds of millions of dollars and perhaps even billions of dollars.

From large swarms of potentially deadly, peanut-sized jellyfish in Australia to swarms of hundreds of millions of refrigerator-sized jellyfish in the Sea of Japan, suspicion is growing that population explosions of jellyfish are being generated by human activities. Human activities that have been suggested by media reports and scientists as possible causes of some jellyfish swarms include pollution, climate change, introductions of non-native species, overfishing and the presence of artificial structures, such as oil and gas rigs. But which of these human activities, if any of them, are really to blame?

Surprising insights about the causes and character of jellyfish blooms are revealed in a new online multi-media report by the National Science Foundation. Titled Jellyfish Gone Wild: Environmental Change and Jellyfish Swarms, the report is available at: http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/jellyfish/index.jsp.

Scientists: act now on Gulf of Mexico's dead zone
Cain Burdeau, Enquirer Herald 12 Dec 08;
NEW ORLEANS Scientists have issued a report urging immediate government action to reduce urban and Midwest farmland runoff blamed for feeding an 8,000-square-mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, an oxygen-deprived pool of water that has grown alarmingly off the mouth of the Mississippi River.

A report on Thursday by the National Research Council, a scientific and technology non-profit institution created by Congress, exhorted the federal government to take quick steps to avoid a tipping point and avert an ecosystem collapse similar to what has happened in the Chesapeake Bay and Denmark's coastal waters.

"Action and progress ... have been stalled for years," the report said in calling for "decisive, immediate actions" to curtail polluting runoff from several Midwestern states that feed the Mississippi River and are blamed as factors in the dead zone's growth.

The report called for the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture to join in creating a Mississippi River Basin Water Quality Center to coordinate efforts. Pilot projects should be directed at reducing nitrogen and phosphorous runoffs seen as one culprit.

Scientists say the low-oxygen zone - created by massive algae blooms that consume oxygen in waters off Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas - makes it harder for organisms to survive, robbing them of reproductive energy needed to continue life in those waters. The low-oxygen condition is called hypoxia by scientists.

"The existence of gulf hypoxia is a national-level water quality problem that has been persistent, has become larger over time, and will require decisive actions to remedy," the report warned.

Recent studies, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others, have found the dead zone is tampering with the Gulf food chain. The term scientists use to describe changes in the food chain is a "regime shift" in the oxygen-deprived waters

The dead zone was first studied in the 1970s. Since then, the zone has grown and scientists warn it could threaten Gulf fisheries, where the largest fleet of fishermen in the Lower 48 states works.

Studies show the health of copepods, small crustaceans grazed on by larger species, and shrimp have been affected by the dead zone.

"What we're finding is that we see these regime shifts sometimes where instead of producing a normal food chain we wind up with just jellyfish," said Paul Montagna, a biologist at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

He said the problem is "very complex" and "very real."

In recent years, the dead zone has gotten so big that it has stretched from the Texas coast to Mississippi. The low-oxygen area dissipates in the winter months and returns in the spring and summer.

Federal agencies besides NOAA are beginning to acknowledge the phenomenon.

Last year, a report by the Environmental Protection Agency said a "regime shift" in the Gulf caused by the annual flushing of nitrogen and phosphorous from the Midwest through the Mississippi had taken place, the NRC report noted.

The NRC report, requested by EPA, was a follow-up to a 2007 document outlining the dead zone problem.

Thursday's report comes as President George W. Bush prepares to end his term, leaving the dead zone to President-elect Barack Obama's administration.

Earlier this week, Obama picked Lisa Jackson to head EPA. To advocates in Louisiana, that's good news because Jackson's family is from New Orleans.

Len Bahr, retired director of applied science at Louisiana's governor's office who now runs a blog, wrote Friday that NRC's recommendations "obviously target the Obama transition team" and "reflect long-standing frustration over a decade of failure" to deal with runoff pollution.

"If you put her up against the current EPA administrator, Stephen Johnson, she's a breath of fresh air," said Monique Harden, co-director of the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights.

Jackson did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

She is the chief of staff of New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and was a member of Obama's energy and natural resources transition team. Previously, she worked 16 years at EPA.

She was born in Philadelphia and raised by adopted parents in the Lower 9th Ward, where her family was living when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the neighborhood in August 2005.

On Friday, EPA said it planned to send $3.7 million to 10 groups and organizations in the upper Mississippi River basin to restore wetlands and riverbanks, clean watersheds and document water quality.

"This seed money will grow innovative, cost-effective solutions to speed up the cleanup of impaired watersheds in the Mississippi River Watershed and cut the size of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico," said Benjamin Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water.

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