MED-JELLYRISK project: towards an early warning system to detect jellyfish swarms

Climate change, sea pollution and overfishing are among the theories being used to explain the increase in jellyfish population, scientists say.

It is no surprise that huge jellyfish swarms - some of which may extend up hundreds of meters - commonly form in the Mediterranean Sea, especially during the summer. When swarms hit the coast, thousands of jellyfish wash onto beaches. This may disrupt the holidays of many beachgoers with consequences on local tourism related businesses.

As jellyfish threat increases, so must human responses. 

Predicting swarms of jellyfish in Malta

"Jellyfish ate my holidays," said a traveler on Trip Advisor further to a summer stay in Malta. Yet the socio-economic impact of jellyfish on tourist areas is huge according to Stefano Piraino, Professor at Salento University and coordinator of the MED-JELLYRISK project. "We are at risk of losing millions of euros," warned Piraino.

Contributing to about 15 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, tourism in Malta is an important sector of the country's economy. And so are aquatic activities. In an effort to predict and monitor swarms of jellyfish, the MED-JELLYRISK project has started a campaign to better understand the movement of jellyfish banks. Three sea drifters were recently deployed off the coast of Mellieha Bay, a popular resort among Maltese nationals and holidaymakers.

Based on satellite tracking, the information gathered by the sea drifters - including sea surface currents (direction and strength) and temperature - will allow scientists to validate numerical models that can simulate the dispersion of jellyfish blooms and predict their incidence on coastal areas. "The jellyfish dispersion model will constitute the basic element of a prototype system intended to act as an early warning of jellyfish swarms impacting our beaches," said Professor Alan Deidun from the University of Malta.

An integrated answer to the explosion of jellyfish population

Besides the inconvenience for holidaymakers, the rise of jellyfish population means there is something wrong in the Mediterranean Sea. "The jellyfish issue has to be taken seriously," said Piraino. "The rapid growth over the last few decades of these creatures is a sign of the Mediterranean Sea's deteriorating marine health".

And now there are concerns over Egypt’s plans to expand the Suez Canal. "The Suez Canal acts as a corridor for invasion by alien marine species," told Piraino in an article published in The Conservation. A bigger canal means more invasions from the Red Sea. And more species of jellyfish entering the Mediterranean Sea, a sensitive environment, full of unique wildlife.

In order to prevent damage to tourism caused when a jellyfish bank hits the coast, the MED-JELLYRISK project supports use of nets that keep jellyfish from beaches, apps that list jellyfish conditions on the local beach and public awareness raising.

Making public authorities, local businesses and beachgoers ready to live together with jellyfish and adapting our answers to address the growth of these fascinating creatures: this is mission of the Italian, Maltese, Spanish and Tunisian scientists behind the MED-JELLYRISK project.
30.07.2014 - Sea, sun, summer: enjoy safe holidays at the beach with MED-JELLYRISK project