Citizen science for jellyfish

Holidaymakers are being asked to become citizen scientists and to report jellyfish sightings on the UK coast as part of a nationwide survey. The move by the Marine Conservation Society follows mass strandings of moon jellyfish in north Wales and is part of a study on leatherback turtles which feed on the jellyfish.

The study aims to understand the little known habits of these sea creatures.

It is part of wider research on the ecology of critically endangered leatherback turtles while they visit UK seas to feed on their favourite jellyfish prey.

The MCS is encouraging visitors to the beaches, and sea users, to record any jellyfish they encounter with the help of free jellyfish identification guides and recording forms.

Peter Richardson, MCS species policy officer, said: “The MCS National Jellyfish Survey is in full swing and we have already received many jellyfish sightings from around the coast.

“We are urging anyone who is fishing, sailing or walking along beaches to record their jellyfish encounters and join in this effort to understand the ecology of our fabulous jellyfish.”

Reports this year suggest that the jellyfish are appearing in much the same way as 2004, with millions of harmless moon jellyfish swarming along the west coasts of England, Wales and Scotland.

In the seas around north Wales, northern England and Scotland, moon jellyfish swarms are usually accompanied by Britain’s largest jellyfish, the lion’s mane jellyfish, which has a powerful sting.

Peter Richardson added: “While we welcome public participation in our survey, the MCS message is `Look, don’t touch’, as some jellyfish, and especially the lion’s mane, can give you a very painful sting.

“Large swarms of lion’s mane jellyfish have already appeared off western Scotland, and in late June we received a report of a 1.5 metre wide, five metre long specimen spotted off the Isle of Man.”

Last year moon jellyfish predominated in huge swarms around the UK during July and were followed by mass strandings of compass jellyfish, another stinging species, on beaches in south-west England, Wales, northern Ireland and south-east Scotland, which persisted throughout August.

Peter Richardson added: “It is not clear why large numbers of some species suddenly appear in UK waters, but we expect environmental factors such as weather patterns and sea temperatures to play a role.

“The Met Office has already predicted that this summer’s temperatures may be above average for south-west England and north-west Scotland, so it will be interesting to see how the jellyfish respond.”

Source: icWales