A couple of years ago, my young son barely went in the sea despite an entire summer in Malta. Kids love the beach, don’t they? Part of the reason was the jellyfish invasion. He still enjoyed the beach however as he spent all his time scooping up the blobs on the shoreline or paddling out a little to collect some larger specimens, and generally playing marine biologist. The enormous, brown, tentacle-less cow-pat size jellies that washed up once were a rare treat. They are in fact harmless although quite gross to look at.
This other side to jellyfish – their allure as weird, brainless, even beautiful marine creatures – is something that has struck the Malta Tourism Authority too. The officials there know that all beaches, at some time over the summer, are going to be blighted by jellyfish. Rather than try to play down the prospect, they have come up with a new strategy – tackle the issue head on and celebrate the large variety of jellyfish along our shores. They’ve posted up a set of ‘Spot the Jellyfish’ boards at some 70 coastal sites to encourage us to identify species we come across. In fact, kids will love reporting any new species they think they’ve found on the Spot the Jellyfish website run by the International Ocean Institute (Malta).
The MTA is also supporting a Spot the Jellyfish Photo Competition with two categories of entry: one for scuba divers; the other for those with regular cameras.
So far this summer, I’ve not spotted jellyfish at my regular two sandy beaches in Malta – Golden Bay and Ghejn Tuffieha. But it’s early in the season. Jellyfish come and go, according to tide, winds, lunar pull, bloom rates, and so on. You may have a day with them (so go prepared with some vinegar or sting relief spray), but the next day on the beach could be fine. Generally, jellyfish volumes are not something to panic about. Last year, I swam the entire summer virtually jellyfish free. It’s hit and miss. If you aren’t lucky enough to miss them, you can always take up a new beach-combing pastime, and do your civic duty by reporting details of sightings – send an SMS to 7922 2278 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jellyfish trends: There seems to be no clear data on jellyfish volumes, but in certain parts of the world (off Namibia for example) scientists have discovered that jellyfish biomass outweighs that of fish. Their arrival is seasonal, and related to sea temperatures and availability of food, or the lack of their predators (sea turtles for instance). They do thrive in oxygen-poor waters so sea pollution worldwide may have helped their blooming.
Treating stings: there’s a lot of information on this. See Wikipedia for a full low-down. But to treat a minor injury from a jellyfish sting in Maltese waters, you’ll probably only need diluted vinegar or a sting relief. Make sure you protect yourself when removing any stuck tentacles. If in any doubt, and especially if treating a child, do seek medical assistance. The levels of toxicity vary according to jellyfish type, and we can all react differently to a sting. Golden Bay has a lifeguard (from July onwards) who can assist; many other beaches have food kiosks nearby which can no doubt give you some vinegar. Ambulance service tel: 196.
For more on Jellies in the Med, click here [an article from a few years ago but it’s a good background read on why the Mediterranean has seen a surge in jellies. And shows Malta is not alone!]
Photo: Dragan Donkov