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Exploding jellyfish population a warning sign of worsening ocean health

Jellyfish populations

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(NaturalNews) Signs continue to emerge showing that the ocean waters are changing in pH, moving toward a more acidic state. As jellyfish populations explode in specific areas of the oceans, scientists warn of a new era of declining ocean health teaming with imbalances of ecology. In fact, marine biologists are beginning to notice intense jellyfish populations expanding in areas never seen before. These invertebrates can compete with whales for food and threaten their survival. Even more dangerous, jellyfish populations pose an ongoing threat to nuclear power plants, threatening shutdowns.

Growing jellyfish populations threaten nuclear power plants

Not only are growing jellyfish populations damaging fishing trawlers, costing millions of dollars in damage, but they also pose a threat to nuclear power plants, threatening near meltdowns. In fact, a Swedish nuclear plant was recently shut down when tons of jellyfish clogged the cooling pipes that bring in water to the plant's turbines. The Swedish Oskarshamn nuclear plant uses similar boiling water reactor technology as the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

"Oceans could be stressed or unhealthy"

Lucas Brotz, a PhD student with the Sea Around Us project at the University of British Columbia's (B.C.) Fisheries Centre, is currently studying this phenomenon, diving into the ocean to swim with lion's mane jellyfish in Indian Arm, a fjord in B.C.

Brotz reported to CBC Radio on the damage being done by jellyfish. "In some places, it's clogging fishing nets and damaging fishing gear. In other places, jellyfish are clogging the intake pipes of cooling power plants." He says that jellyfish populations are blooming earlier and more often in some places of the ocean, signifying changes in ocean ecology. He says the jellyfish are exploding in population with intensity and staying around in certain areas longer than usual.

"As we see more and more [jellyfish], and we watch them thrive in some areas where they typically weren't thriving, I think it may be a signal that our oceans could be stressed or unhealthy," said Brotz.

"We're definitely going to have to get used to having more jellyfish around," he added. "Even if we do figure out the problem. In many places, we've actually seen ecosystems switch from being dominated by fish to being dominated by jellyfish."

Growing jellyfish populations throw off entire aquatic food chains

Expert Lisa-ann Gershwin agrees that the exploding jellyfish population is a sign of deteriorating ocean health. In her new book Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, she calls the jellyfish "enchanting and lovely" invertebrates that are an overall indicator of ocean health. She says that, when something is wrong in the ocean water, jellyfish thrive. She goes on to explain how overfishing, rising water temperatures and ocean acidification contribute to the jellyfish boom.

"They need something a little bit funky to set them into a cascade of events where they end up in control," said Gershwin. When they are in control, they can throw off the food chain. The invertebrates have the unique ability to eat higher up on the food chain than themselves. This means that they can compete with whales by preying on the fish that are bigger, faster and smarter than they are.

Black Sea now dominated by jellyfish making up 95 percent of the biomass there

"So jellyfish can wipe out a whole food chain by eating down at the bottom," Gershwin said. "And they're doing this." She points to an occurrence in the early 1980s when a species of jellyfish called Mnemiopsis leidyi were introduced into the Black Sea. In just a few years, the jellyfish overtook the Black Sea, competing with fish larger than themselves. Now, the species of jellyfish makes up as much as 95 percent of the biomass there! Gershwin is afraid that jellyfish may be well on their way to dominating the oceans in much the same way.

For now, the public can report jellyfish blooms through the JellyWatch.org site as marine biologists investigate where and why the jellyfish boom is occurring.

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