(Published - 16 October 2019)
Keeping jellyfish as pets in fish tanks is fast becoming a trend, but scientists still have a myriad of questions about their mysterious resilience in unfavourable natural habitats where other sea life generally battles to survive.
Scientists from around the world will be flocking to Cape Town in early November to discuss this and other topics associated with these brainless, limbless creatures of the sea.
The University of the Western Cape (UWC), in partnership with Iziko Museums of South Africa and the Two Oceans Aquarium, is co-hosting the 6th International Jellyfish Blooms Symposium from November 4 to 6.
Professor Mark Gibbons, a lecturer in the Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at UWC, says that the conference is important because it presents an opportunity to share the latest ideas, developments as well as technologies and theories on research relating to jellyfish. It is also an important opportunity to share jellyfish management responses with a global community of scientists.
The general coastal dwelling and visiting public in South Africa has probably met the most unpleasant member of the jellyfish family - the bluebottle. Its painful sting often disrupts peaceful walks on beaches. But, says Prof Gibbons, jellyfish are not all bad. Apart from being a source of food in the Far East where they are commercially farmed, they are in high demand in the beauty industry as a source of collagen.
“They may become equally beneficial to marine conservation, because in certain parts of the world the slime jellyfish produces is being used to mop up microplastics and other pollutants in the ocean. They are particularly helpful to marine conservationists because their presence (or absence) is a good indicator of the health of the oceans around us,” said Prof Gibbons.
“We are able to see changes taking place in the marine environment by monitoring where jellyfish populations are increasing or decreasing relative to normal. Scientists are trying to figure out why jellyfish occur in large numbers in polluted parts of the ocean where visibility is not ideal. They are looking at why they increase rapidly and occur in large numbers, causing problems such as clogging pumps of coastal power and desalination plant filters.”
Another topic up for discussion will be the dumping of phosphorus-rich waste into the sea via rivers, sewage and storm-water drains.
“We will look at the impact this has on water clarity, the size and structure of the food web and the concentration of life-giving oxygen. These changes are not good for most of the types of fish that we eat, as these generally use vision to see large-sized prey. They also need high concentrations of oxygen to support their active lifestyles,” explained Prof Gibbons.
“Jellyfish have several pre-adaptations to the changes we have caused - human-impacted ecosystems - that would allow them to increase in numbers.”
The conference will focus on development in its broadest sense, and on human capacity development, technology, and concept development with an emphasis on students, and especially women from developing nations.
Pictured: Prof Mark Gibbons, lecturer in the Department of Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Krish Lewis, jellyfish aquarist at the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Picture: Harriet Box
Pictured: Some of the specimen of jellyfish which can be seen at the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Picture: Two Oceans Aquarium.