Why reducing plastic use can save your skin from jellyfish itch

Do you feel the burn? Black jelly, or black nettle. Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Most days when paddling in the ocean, the water refreshes you completely. As glassy waves crash over your board and your body, any worries or irritants seem to fade away, falling with the tides.

And then there are the other days. The days when you are paddling and your skin feels immediate irritation. A mildly irritating, mildly stinging sensation that seeps into your suit and sits on your forehead and cheeks, flaring up between sets. You surf throughout the session because, of course you dobut leave the lineup excited to rinse the salty sea disabled. It may be the result of sunscreen you forgot to reapply last weekend, but more likely than not, that itch is due to exposure to microscopic jellyfish larvae blooms. . A common and relatively harmless, but uncomfortable occurrence.

Although acidification, rising ocean temperatures and pollution are harming most marine species, these changes are actually to help the expansion of jellyfish and the creation of an ideal environment for jellyfish. The west coast sees several species, such as the Pacific sea nettle or black sea nettle (black jelly), which have would have clogged Orange County beaches before . For the majority of marine life, plastic pollution can lead to entanglement, suffocation, and debris-filled stomachs that lead to starvation. For jellyfish, more plastic means more chances of survival at certain critical stages of their formation.

The life cycle of a astonished is a bit more complex than you might expect from a boneless, brainless, and bloodless creature. The distinctive bell shape we all envision when we think of “jellyfish” stems from a late phase in a jellyfish’s life, known as the “medusa phase”. In their early life, jellies were produced asexually as tiny larvae and float with the tides for some time…often drifting in your wetsuit…and after a time of maturation these tiny larvae undergo a drastic change , turning into their “polyp”. phase. Think of it as their rebellious teenage years (it’s just a phasemom).

During this polyp phase, the jellies must attach to a surface or “substrate” in order to grow. Under natural circumstances, these polyps will settle in the ocean floor. But as man-made surfaces such as plastics seep into the seas, jellies come with other materials to attach themselves to. As a result, jellyfish are able to thrive in deeper water, no longer needing to stay on shore or endure great depths to reach a substrate. Thus, the expansion of their populations and range.

During the crisp winter months of 2019, an expedition ship full of marine biologists braved twenty-foot swells in the Gulf of Alaska to record changes in the salmon population. But what ended up defining the trip was a massive, unplanned bloom of jellyfish, or more accurately, a giant group of northern sea nettles.

Canadian oceanographer Brian Hunt, who was the primary observer of these jellyfish blooms, spent 11 nights of their voyage on the ship’s deck, counting species typically native to shallow waters by visual observation. Overall, Hunt estimated the ship exceeded some 10 million tonnes of jellyfish moved.

As one of the most opportunistic species on Earth, jellyfish have both adapted to and thrive in degraded environments and ecosystems that other species cannot. According to fossil and sedimentary records, jellyfish are one of the only animals to have survived every mass extinction in Earth’s history since their evolution. Because they are boneless, pH imbalances in the ocean do not negatively affect jellies the same way they affect marine species with skeletal structures. And because rising temperatures have such drastic effects on other species, uninfluenced jellyfish are able to outcompete opponents, such as salmon, for food.

All that to say it’s not the jellyfish’s fault. These brainless beings simply adapt to an environment that changes in their favor.

Higher temperatures, increasing acidification, more plastic…more frosts. So the next time you order that fun new set of flip flops that come in a plastic wrap, consider that the end result may be more irritating surfs and more big, stingy jellies.

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