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Too Many Jellyfish

Jellyfish in sea

A warm, sunny afternoon, a couple of years ago, found us driving into the muddy lane towards the quiet and secluded Hollant beach - another one to check off on our list of previously unexplored spaces. The water was like a pool, without waves and at just the right temperature. I lay in it floating on my back, carefree, letting the scorching sun darken my brown face. Some gushing sounds, splashing and quick footsteps towards my right made me open my right eye. There were three children pointing and staring at something in the water as their supervisor, likely their father, signalled for to me to be careful. As I reached closer to the rocks where the children stood, and peered in the direction of their fascinated gazes, I saw it. A huge pinkish-white jelly fish that could easily have me fooled that she was a plastic bag.

Goa has seen jelly fish since forever and spikes in numbers during certain times of the year are normal. While I’m yet to come across scientific, factual information that backs this, it appears that the jellyfish populations the world over have increased. Jellyfish thrive in warmer temperatures so there are speculations that global warming and increased pollution is supporting the growth of these species. They are of course super hardy and have survived every possible shift the planet has seen before now. Did you know that they have been around somewhere in the range of 5 million years?

In November last year, much like some of the previous years, North Goa’s beaches saw an unusual increase in the number of jellyfish sightings (and bitings) over the course of one week. Some friends were amongst those from whom I heard a first hand account. Since their trip to Goa coincided with the jellyfish swarming the beaches, they encountered the ‘seaweed like swiftly moving creatures’ once at Mandrem and then again the next day at Ashwem beach. “The sting can burn to the point of numbness”, my friend Keanna says trying hard to find the right words to describe the excruciating pain.

I’ve been travelling to Goa my entire adult life. In all these years of visiting, the last year was the first time that I heard of so many cases of jellyfish stings. Puja Mitra from Terra Conscious educates saying, “The jellyfish bloom was due to overload of organic matter which caused a bloom in Noctiluca plankton which is consumed by some types of jellyfish.” She also mentioned that a lot of articles have been written on this globally but links to climate change are still unclear.

It is true that human activity is making the planet hotter. Our greenhouse gas emissions are being trapped by the soil and sea alike. As the seas get hotter, the conditions become more and more favourable for creatures like jellyfish to thrive. Not many other marine species can tolerate this kind of heat. Jellyfish are also capable of handling a higher acidity level. We can’t say for sure whether this is the result of local activities of dumping of sewage and chemicals into the sea, but at a larger level, we all need to be cognisant of climate change and its various downsides that we are going to see more of in the coming days.

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