No Brain…no heart…no lungs… and they’re taking over. No, this isn’t a Stephen King tale of horror, but it’s no less scary. In the early fall of 2007 billions of jellyfish attacked a salmon farm in Northern Ireland destroying more than 100,000 fish. In Japan, the number of jellyfish has risen so dramatically they are devastating the livelihoods of fishermen. Mass jellyfish sightings are now common along the Mediterranean coast, off southern Africa, the west coasts of England, Wales and Scotland, the beaches of Waikiki, and the Gulf of Mexico.
These giant jellyfish can grow up to 2 meters (6 ft 7 in) in diameter and weigh up to 200 kg (440 lb). And, they pack a wallop. Over 19,000 stings were reported in the Mediterranean last summer including resorts in Italy and France. Twelve thousand pounds of jellyfish were scooped up in three days off the Costa Tropical last year.
Creeping Dead Zones
Dead Zones (hypoxia) are large regions of water that are very low in oxygen and can’t support aquatic life. This annual phenomena occurs along many of the world’s coastlines when freshwater from rivers full of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, mainly from farm fertilizers and sewage, ignite huge algae blooms which float on top of the salty water. When the algae dies, it sinks into the saltier water below and decomposes, using up the oxygen in the deeper water. Starved of oxygen, the deeper water becomes a dead zone. No oxygen, no fish.
Bottom-dwellers such as snails, worms, starfish, crabs and the tiny organisms that form the vital base of the food chain also die because they can’t escape the dead zone’s oxygen-poor water. No oxygen, no food chain.
Since the 1960s the number of Dead Zones worldwide has doubled with each passing decade and they are spreading over larger areas of the sea floor. There are over 200 Dead Zones in coastal waters around the world and they are damaging the ability of the world’s oceans to produce seafood. Dead Zones can also be found in fresh water lakes, such as Lake Erie.
The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone is one of the largest in the world. It has far reaching effects throughout coastal and marine ecosystems. The Gulf yields approximately 40% of annual US commercial fishing, as well as being home to many recreational fishing activities. There is now a growing concern over the safety of seafood. One half of the shellfish producing areas along the gulf coast have either been permanently closed or declared indefinitely off-limits by health officials as a direct result of the marine pollution. The only sea creature that can live in a Dead Zone? Jellyfish.
The jellyfish are not the problem; they are the symptom of the problem. The gains in commercialization of food production, food distribution, and food retailing have created environments in which we are now witnessing the emergence of deadly toxins and the extinction of life sustaining ecosystems.
The use of fertilizer worldwide has soared tenfold over the past 50 years, mirroring the increase in Dead Zones. Half the natural wetlands that filter out nutrients before they reach the sea have been destroyed. Big farming states such as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa have drained more than 80 per cent of their wetlands.
Giant livestock farms, which can house thousands of pigs, chickens, or cows, produce vast amounts of waste — often generating the waste equivalent of a small city. These industrial facilities lead to manure spills into rivers and streams. In 1995 a North Carolina hog farm spilled 25 million gallons of manure into the New River– more than twice the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez– killing 10 million fish and contaminating more than 350,000 acres of coastal shellfish habitat. Factory farming is largely unregulated in North America.
Over fishing and bycatch is a major threat to acquatic life and the well being of our oceans. Every year the commercial fishing industry throws back into the ocean some 30 million metric tons of dead fish caught as bycatch. That equals 25% of all fish caught in the world. Globally, each year 300,000 small whales, dolphins and porpoises die as a result of becoming entangled in fishing gear. Commercial longline fisheries catch more than 250,000 loggerhead and leatherback marine turtles annually. The leatherback turtle is a major predator of jellyfish. No leatherbacks – loads of jellyfish.
The Power of One
You can make a difference. Start by opening the dialogue with family and friends. Then contact your local government representative to find out which government level is responsible for farming practices and what they are doing about introducing or supporting legislation on regulating factory farms that are owned by large corporations. This dangerous practice not only affects Dead Zones but evidence is mounting that our water tables are becoming contaminated. Stand up for your right to drink clean water. Remember politicians listen to numbers and persistent constituents.
Remember to vote with your dollar. When buying or dining on fish, meat or poultry the decision to purchase should be firmly rooted in your personal food ethics. Make a difference by choosing sustainable food which supports responsible fishing and local farming practices. Ask the question and if you’re not satisfied with the answer, don’t purchase the item and tell the supplier why. This simple and effective action is a big part of the solution.