Global warming is proving to have a few unexpected side effects. Other than the incremental increase in temperatures worldwide, the greater intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms, and the constant danger of drought and deadly forest fires—all of which were predicted before global warming became such an ever-present condition—there have been a good number of surprising developments that no one could have seen coming.
One of these developments was the invasion of the virulent mountain pine beetle into B.C., Alberta and the northern United States, turning otherwise healthy pine trees into red-tinged, cancerous stumps. Sure, the mountain pine beetle has always been around, but the advent of global warming expanded their pestilence by bringing warmer temperatures and somewhat milder winters, giving the beetles a longer time to run rampant over the countryside. We are still trying to figure out how to stem their yearly feeding frenzy before they turn our national parks into a tinderbox of dead wood.
Another huge problem is happening in Japan, namely the sudden influx of Nomura jellyfish into their valuable fishing grounds. Since 2000, as global warming has slowly raised the ambient temperature of the Sea of Japan, Japanese fishermen have noticed a stunning seasonal increase in the number of these gigantic jellyfish. And when I say “gigantic,” I mean absolutely, grotesquely, hugely gargantuan. These mysterious creatures routinely reach mammoth proportions of about 6 feet long (with tentacles) and weigh up to 450 pounds, literally the same size as a Japanese sumo wrestler. If that’s not scary enough, imagine 10,000 of these massive creatures swimming around in the water next to you, their deadly, stinging tentacles zapping every fish in reach.
That’s what Japanese fishermen have had to deal with the past few years as the jellyfish’s numbers have suddenly exploded. For a few months out of the year, these creepy invertebrates totally clog the waterway between China and Japan. It’s gotten to the point that fishing boats can’t cast their nets without collecting hundreds of Nomura jellyfish with each pass. When they’re not busy tearing the nets and weighing down the trawlers, the jellyfish also manage to taint the fishermen’s regular payloads, coating the desirable fish with slime and making them mostly inedible. And, unfortunately, there’s no relief in sight. One expert states, “The arrival is inevitable. A huge jellyfish typhoon will hit the country.”
And Japan is not alone in this conundrum. A sharp increase in jellyfish blooms has also been noticed in places like the Gulf of Mexico (pre-oil spill), the Black Sea, the North Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and especially in Australia, where the venom of a box jellyfish has been known to kill a person in less than 10 minutes by inducing a fatal heart attack (even in children). More recently, in August 2010, beaches along the Mediterranean side of Spain had to be closed due to a sudden bloom of Mauve Stinger jellyfish—in just a half hour, over 50 people had to be treated by the Red Cross for severe jellyfish stings.
And global warming isn’t the only man-made contribution to this growing jellyfish epidemic: other factors include overfishing, which deprives the ecosystem of the jellyfish’s natural predators like sardines, anchovies and tuna (no kidding); contaminated storm-water runoff, which is high in pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorous and creates a low-oxygen “dead zone” in which most sea-life cannot live (a process known as “eutrophication“); and the importation of invasive jellyfish species from other parts of the world by way of oil tankers and transoceanic liners.
The Gulf of Mexico, oil spill aside, had already been considered one of the largest “dead zones” in the western hemisphere, last estimated to cover about 10,000 square miles. This “dead zone” is caused by the sheer volume of fertilizer, sewage, pollutants and other human waste that is dumped into the gulf waters from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers—essentially draining the whole middle of the United States directly into the gulf waters. These contaminants rob the ocean of its life-giving oxygen and chase away all the oxygen-dependant sea creatures, thereby leaving a vast opening for the highly adaptable jellyfish to swim in and bloom like invertebrate rabbits. To make matters worse, those nonindigenous jellyfish species that are carried into the Gulf of Mexico from as far away as Australia can cling to the oil platforms that dot the gulf sea—acting like artificial coral reefs—and will start polyptiplying, filling the aptly named “dead zone” with a plethora of deadly jellyfish.
If this sounds bad to you, that’s because it is. Scientists have even started theorizing about what they call a “jellyfish stable state,” which is essentially an ideal set of conditions that would allow the jellyfish population to completely take over the ocean, creating a “monoculture of jellyfish” and replacing fish as the dominant species—which is a total shame, since jellyfish don’t taste half as good as fish.
And, in the same way that global warming has unleashed the voracious mountain pine beetle upon more northerly climes, the jellyfish could easily start migrating towards the poles and realistically be plaguing the beaches of more densely populated, less tropical areas in the coming years. If you’ve ever been stung by a jellyfish (I have), then you’ll know that this is not good news. Imagine not being able to swim in the ocean when you go to Mexico or surf the huge waves in Tofino because of jellyfish invasions.
The most obvious solution to this inevitable jellyfish infestation is to stop eating sardines, anchovies and tuna, the jellyfish’s aforementioned most deadly natural predators. If those salty little ichthyoids were out policing the world’s oceans instead of sitting all tin-canned on store shelves across North America, the world would be an infinitely safer place.
So please boycott tuna melts and anchovy pizzas no matter how delicious you think they are—your planet needs you right now. The jellyfish are coming, and we need all the protection we can get.