Nets may keep jellyfish far from beaches

Nets may keep jellyfish far from beaches

Outbreaks of jellyfish in Maltese waters, such as Għadira Bay, have become more frequent in the past few years.

Outbreaks of jellyfish in Maltese waters, such as Għadira Bay, have become more frequent in the past few years.

A mauve stinger at Golden Bay.A mauve stinger at Golden Bay.

Malta’s popular beaches may soon have nets installed as part of an EU-funded project to protect against outbreaks of jellyfish.

Jellyfish populations in the Mediterranean have been tracked over the past four years as part of the Med-Jellyrisk project, in which the University of Malta is participating.

One proposal to protect swimmers against outbreaks is to erect two-metre-deep nets to create safe zones in participating countries – Malta, Italy, Spain and Tunisia.

Marine biologist Alan Deidun said he has been in discussions with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority to trial one such net this summer.

The jellyfish phenomenon is so unpredictable and complex that we only have the tools to give short-term predictions

Xlendi was proposed as the trial venue by Mepa and if Dr Deidun receives final confirmation from the authority the net will be installed in the coming weeks.

Mepa did not respond to questions on this issue by the time of going to press.

Dr Deidun explained that the nets have been specially designed to minimise the impact on other marine life. They can easily be removed in case of stormy weather and redeployed by two snorkelers.

As part of the EU-funded project, a special app to allow the public to monitor jellyfish movements around Maltese beaches should be available by mid-summer, Dr Deidun said.

An app for Spanish beaches is already available for download.

Dr Deidun is project manager of the project at the International Ocean Institute – Malta Operational Centre, at the University.

The University’s Biology Department is also participating in the project.

Dr Deidun said Med-Jellyrisk was an acknowledgement by the European Commission that jellyfish outbreaks were having a socio-economic impact on Mediterranean countries.

Tourism areas were particularly affected by jellyfish outbreaks.

Notably, outbreaks of the mauve stinger in Maltese waters have become more frequent, said Dr Deidun. Mauve stingers also appear to be growing larger, with some measuring 15cm in diameter.

Despite this, Dr Deidun said it was difficult to draw water-tight conclusions as mauve stinger blooms have been reported in the Mediterranean for over 200 years.

He pointed out that annual fluctuations in numbers of this jellyfish were considerable, with twice as many sightings reported in 2010 than 2011.

“We, the scientific community, must admit that the jellyfish phenomenon is such an unpredictable and complex one that we only have the tools to give short-term predictions of a few days or weeks,” Dr Deidun said.

Mauve stingers are unpopular with swimmers because they have a painful sting, although this rarely results in hospitalisation. Dr Deidun said the number observed close to shore in Maltese waters this year was not exceptionally high.

“We should not over-blow Malta’s jellyfish ‘problem’. Lying in the central Mediterranean, we don’t suffer the scourges wrecking other regions of the sea, such as Spain, which has a big problem with the Portuguese man o’ war,” he said.

At least 150,000 people were treated for jellyfish stings around the Mediterranean each summer, Med-Jellyrisk project co-ordinator Stefano Piraino was quoted as saying in The Guardian on Monday.

As predators disappear, jellyfish population surges happen more frequently. Global warming, overfishing and an increase in made-made structures such as breakwaters are blamed.

Dr Deidun also pointed the finger at growing levels of pollutants such as nitrates and phosphates from fertiliser-laden runoff from the land.

The website says outbreaks at large distances across partner countries suggests that “2013 will be another Year of the Jellyfish” in the Mediterranean.

In a post yesterday on its Facebook site following The Guardian’s article, Med-Jellyrisk clarified: “The Mediterranean Sea is as safe as or even safer than other seas concerning risks of being stung by jellyfish.”

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