Monday, 4 July 2011

In the pink

Last week as I was heading along the lighthouse road when a strange sight met my eyes - the sea at Petticowick was pink! A blink, a shake of the head, and was still pink (see left)! Basically all this colour was caused by a whole load of moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) being washed in shore by the tide and being caught up in the bay there.

There have been a lot of jellies around this year; nobody is really sure why you get these blooms of jellies, but it may be to do with decreasing fish stocks meaning there are fewer predators around to eat them. And phenomena such as these can have surprising knock on effects - who would have thought that jellyfish could cause Torness nuclear power station to have to be shut down...twice? Basically the huge smacks (the collective noun) of jellyfish were blocking up the filters on the intake pipes for the cooling water for the plant. I personally always get a bit of a buzz out of nature reminding us that we cannot control everything!

I have a bit of a soft spot for jellyfish (no pun intended) - I think they have got a bad reputation with many people being scared of them or at the very least disliking them for their stinging ways. But if you see them literally in their element they are extraordinarily beautiful (see right), their bell-shaped bodies pulsing to propel themselves through the water and their delicate tentacles catching the light.

There are 6 main types of jellyfish that are found in UK waters, and all of them sting, but some have stings so mild that they cannot be felt by us humans with our thick skin (moon jellies have a sting of a similar strength to a nettle). And they are an important part of the food chain with many iconic marine animals (like whales, dolphins and turtles) relying on them for their survival. And our jellyfish are not just important to UK species. Did you know that each year leatherback turtles make a beeline from their breeding grounds in the tropics to UK waters, just to feast on our jellies, and then they head back down south to breed again? No short journey, so an illustration of the importance of this food source.

So next time you see a jellyfish caught in a rockpool of washed up on a beach, maybe you will look at it through different eyes. If you would like to do your bit towards conservation of species like the leatherback turtle, why not take part in the Marine Conservation Society's jellyfish survey .

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