No, this is not a fictional piece. And it’s not a review of some crappy 50’s B-movie creature feature – although it is ultimately more scary. It’s about the impending death of our oceans and the rise of the jellyfish, and after reading this you’ll think the Creature From the Black Lagoon was about as scary as a wet fart in a pair of white pants.
**Actually, that’s pretty scary!**
“So what’s the big deal?” I hear you say. “Yes, we know we could do a little better when it comes to tidying up after ourselves. We use our cars too much, eat too much meat, buy too much pointless plastic stuff … we get it. But why are you subjecting us all to another ‘we’re all doomed’ lecture piece?”
And about jellyfish of all things. (After all, what should we have to fear of an organism that couldn’t even be bothered to evolve a brain after 600 million years?)
Well, I’ll tell you why:
a) I’ve been given garden leave until the end of December and am therefore indulging in a lot of National Geographic documentaries, like this one
b) I didn’t know how serious this thing was until (see a…but in the past tense).
(Oh, incidentally, I start a new job in January, if you saw my last post)
Anyway, back to the point. I started the piece saying this was not a review of a crappy B-movie. However, what if I told you that the reproductive process of most jellies was akin to cloning. You see, they don’t produce conventional offspring, they produce polyps which stick to the sea bed and churn out clones of themselves whenever environmental factors precipitate it. Ergo (from watching the documentary) whenever\wherever human activities have caused imbalance to marine ecosystems, by removing predatory species (of which there are apparently very few: turtles, anchovies, albatross), or by polluting areas of ocean with industrial/chemical run-off leading to huge swathes of oxygen-depleted water where pretty much the only thing that can survive is – you guessed it, jellyfish.
And get this:
One kind of jellyfish, which might be termed the zombie jelly, is quite literally immortal. When Turritopsis dohrnii “dies” it begins to disintegrate, which is pretty much what you expect from a corpse. But then something strange happens. A number of cells escape the rotting body. These cells somehow find each other, and reaggregate to form a polyp. All of this happens within five days of the jellyfish’s “death,” and weirdly, it’s the norm for the species.
~Tim Flannery, New York Review
Despite being capable of causing catastrophic crashes in fish stocks, bringing down power grids and sinking trawlers, jellies are also indiscriminate killers. A little brush of a tentacle and that wonderful dip in the ocean might well be your last, especially if you were unfortunate enough to swim with the Box jellyfish, whose sting (scientists have labelled) “is the most explosive evenomation process presently known to humans.”
In layman’s terms: That shit’s gonna hurt in the morning…if you live to see it!
And the only thing a box jellyfish needs is warm water, which means your future day trips to Skegness or Bognor Regis might become fraught with even more danger should the world’s ocean temperatures continue to rise.
So there you go. Don’t say you haven’t been warned. And now you’re probably going to want to know what we can do about it.
According to this leading expert in the field, it’s too late. We can’t even eat our way out of this mess. In her book Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, biologist Lisa-ann Gershwin writes:
When I began writing this book,… I had a naive gut feeling that all was still salvageable…. But I think I underestimated how severely we have damaged our oceans and their inhabitants. I now think that we have pushed them too far, past some mysterious tipping point that came and went without fanfare, with no red circle on the calendar and without us knowing the precise moment it all became irreversible.
I hope she’s wrong. I hope we can fix it.
But we haven’t got a chance until we realise that the billions of jellyfish that are blooming in our oceans are doing so because of us. This is but another symptom of the sick patient…
Let’s not be the ones that wrecked the planet for our kids and theirs, and the countless future generations. Let’s educate ourselves, and others, and start to take an interest in this magnificent world. After all, it’s the only one we’ve got.