The Human Solution to the Jellyfish Problem

Cover Photo: Shutterstock

While in the waiting room of the doctors office and flipping through some magazines, I came across a report in “Der Spiegel” — a popular german news magazine. “Leckere Plagegeister” or translated, Delicious Pests.

The article was about the jellyfish overpopulation problem in our seas and oceans and discusses the suggested solution to this problem, that we use the surplus of jellyfish for food, medicine, cosmetics and compost. The company involved is the GEOMAR Centre for Ocean Research in Germany, which has begun a new project called GoJelly. Their aim is to use jellyfish to produce microplastic filters, fertilisers, fish feed and food for humans. This new jellyfish food will of course be marketed as a trendy, delicacy —  “Jellyfish for gourmets!”

More here: Horizon 2020 Projects

Delicious Jellyfish

Just the headline made me squirm! On the cover of the magazine is a large photo of a beautiful jellyfish. Yes, they might be highly poisonous, but jellyfish are definitely extremely intriguing creatures to observe when in their natural habitat.
Turning the page I began to read; the first paragraph described a jellyfish salad, making me squirm even more! The articles main point is that jellyfish are becoming a dangerous plague and taking over our waters and the solution would be to get rid of them by using them. Describing jellyfish as “a huge unused resource”.

This made me think straight away of  “Mao’s “the four pests” campaign or “the great sparrow campaign” which I read about in the book called “To the Edge of the Sky” by Anhua Gao. The book gives a first hand description of life during Mao’s Red China. Mao ordered the people to get rid of the four pests in China which were according to him were an enemy of the people. This was part of his plan called “The Great Leap Forward” in the 1950s and 60s. Mao’s goal was to eliminate “The Four Pests” — these four pests being rats, mosquitos, flies and sparrows. The first three because they spread illnesses and germs and the fourth because they ate the seeds on the farmers fields. The people bravely and without question did what their leader told them to do and from approximately 1958 to 1962 the population did everything possible to kill every last sparrow. In 1960 success was near and the sparrow population went down to practically zero. The result of this “solution” was massive famine in China killing 20 million people.

So what went wrong? Sparrows might eat some of the farmers seed, but their main source of food is insects, for example locusts. So suddenly there were no sparrows and the locusts had no primary predator. The locusts were then able to thrive and overpopulate and needed more food and fed on the farmers crops and overpopulated some more, because there were still no predator sparrows around and so they needed even more food, and they then ate more crops … and so on.

jellyfish-1558317Photo: Pixabay 

A bit of information: Jellyfish have been around for almost 700 billion years and have been forming blooms in the worlds oceans for over 500 million years. They are an essential part of a healthy and natural ocean ecosystem. Jellyfish blooms have so far been mostly in the waters between Japan and China. The Nomura’s jellyfish is the largest species which when full grown, is the size of a man but with a girth of a large fridge.

Ok, so we now have this problem — our seas and oceans are, according to many different reports, are becoming overpopulated with jellyfish. These huge numbers of jellyfish, called blooms, are also being discovered in places where they hadn’t been before, for example Australia and Europe. According to reports these blooms are getting out of hand and causing problems for humans, shutting down power plants, destroying fishing nets, killing the fish in aqua cultures and discouraging tourism. But not only that, the jellyfish overpopulation seems to be expanding continuously. So much so that there is worry that the jellyfish will dominate the ecosystem, thus making fish disappear (even faster) from our oceans.

Photo: Pixabay 

“Mounting evidence suggests that open-ocean ecosystems can flip from being dominated by fish, to being dominated by jellyfish,” Dr Richardson says.  In a healthy ecosystem fish keep jellyfish in check through competition, they feed on the same kinds of prey, and predation, but overfishing destroys that balance.
Written by on June 11, 2009 in JellyfishMarine Life
Read more: Jellyfish Overpopulation — A Threat To The Oceans

Reasons for Jellyfish overpopulation

  • Jellyfish benefit from our overfishing of the oceans because we reduce their competitors and predators, especially herring and sardines.
  • Higher water temperatures due to climate change help to speed up their reproduction and lengthen their reproductive season
  • Agricultural waste and animal waste from animal farm factories enter coastal waters — leading to higher levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. This causes a process called eutrophication, leading to algae in the water and robbing the water of oxygen. Jellyfish and their polyps survive because they can live in low oxygen levels. Fish can’t. The eutrophication process also clouds the water, making it harder for any fish which might still be there to find food. Fish have to see to eat, whereas jellyfish don’t.

  • Man made structures in the water; piers, marinas, oil platforms, artificial reefs, refuse, rubble, aquaculture pens and structures provide an many possibilities for jellyfish polyps to settle on.

So, as we can see, the main reasons for the jellyfish overpopulation seem to be man made in the first place.

Humans Solution to the Jellyfish Overpopulation

So now back to the article that I read. And here I should politely say that I’m not knocking the actual article, but more so humans way of thinking. We have a problem (too many jellyfish) caused by previous other problems (overfishing and pollution) which in turn caused other problems like climate change and dead zones. And what do we humans do? We don’t collectively say “Let’s tackle the problems which we made ourselves first, like overfishing and pollution and try and reverse the situation and so allow the fish to repopulate”. So basically, yes, stop fishing and stop polluting our waters with agricultural waste (so stop meat production). NO! Of course we don’t suggest that! We humans suggest “Well, let’s now just eat all the jellyfish!” (until they’re all gone and the next ecological disaster comes along).

Photo: Pixabay 
“The world’s oceans have been experiencing enormous blooms of jellyfish, apparently caused by overfishing, declining water quality, and rising sea temperatures. Now, scientists are trying to determine if these outbreaks could represent a “new normal” in which jellyfish increasingly supplant fish.”
By Richard Stone January 13, 2011 — Yale Environment 360

Read more: Massive Outbreak of Jellyfish Could Spell Trouble for fisheries. 

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