After roaming the oceans for more than a half billion years, jellyfish may finally be poised to overtake Earth’s largest bodies of water.
A combination of pollution and warming is fostering a perfect environment for the alien-looking creatures to rule the seas. From terrorizing beachgoers to clogging the cooling systems of nuclear plants, the growth in these slimy organisms is increasingly wreaking havoc in the lives of humans.
Perhaps the most urgent concern, however, is what’s happening to the oceanic ecosystem. A UN report released in the spring suggested that climate warming could reduce 24 percent of “fish biomass” by the end of the century as jellyfish flourish. That’s happening because other species are dying off in more adverse conditions. As there is less competition for food and jellyfish become dominant predators, they feast on fish eggs and larvae.
Unlike other sea life, jellyfish thrive in higher temperatures and can breed in polluted water that’s largely lacking oxygen. Over the last century, the average surface temperature of the world’s seas has risen by almost 1°C while oxygen levels in the sea have fallen by around 2 percent over the last 50 years. As the oceans get warmer, jellyfish are also spreading into areas that had historically been too cold.
Typically, jellyfish range in size from 1cm to 40cm, but they can be significantly bigger. For example, the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish can grow to 1.8 meters wide with tentacles over 15 meters long. There are approximately 200 different species of jellyfish, not all of which can sting, and some are considered edible.
That leads us to a viable, if unpleasant sounding, solution to the jellyfish conundrum.
Some scientists are suggesting that humans combat the problem by finding novel ways to use jellyfish, including ramping up its use in cuisine. And while the first thing that comes to mind is likely the “yuck” factor, jellyfish have been a staple in China for centuries. One researcher is already working on a low-calorie snack chip and maybe someday they’ll find a way to make the creatures palatable enough to be a staple on sandwiches and pizza.