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Mauve stingers on Cocoa Beach Thousands of jellyfish dotted 10 miles of beach over Memorial Day weekend and may be visiting the Florida coast for the next year! (Alison Boutilier)

Jellyfish Invasion

A day at the beach in Florida becomes a stinging ordeal

By Tyrus Cukavac | June 16 , 2011
The jellyfish invaded Cocoa Beach, Florida, a city on the Atlantic coast. (Jim McMahon)
The jellyfish invaded Cocoa Beach, Florida, a city on the Atlantic coast. (Jim McMahon)

Ouch! A swarm of jellyfish recently invaded Cocoa Beach in Florida. Beachgoers there suffered a painful Memorial Day weekend before the blob-like intruders left a few days later.

The army of mauve stinger jellyfish took over 10 miles of the beach. Tourists and bathers were advised not to go into the water and to stay away from wet sand.

Christina Sasdelli, a tourist from New Jersey, felt overwhelmed. “There were thousands of them,” she told The New York Times. “There was no clear water. It was just little dots everywhere you looked.”

Still, many people couldn’t resist the tempting surf and sand. They braved the Jell-O-like land mines and tried to enjoy their sunny holiday. Some escaped without getting stung, but others were not so lucky. The jellyfish stung more than 1,800 visitors to the beach.

Jellyfish have stingers on their tentacles. When the tentacles are touched, they release a spear-like stinger, which injects a venom (poison) into the victim. Mauve stinger jellyfish also have stingers on their bodies, making it dangerous to pick one up.

Thankfully, the jellyfish are not deadly. Their sting is similar to a bee sting and can be treated by applying an antihistamine cream and vinegar.

SQUISHY INTRUDERS

It’s unusual to find mauve stingers on Florida’s beaches. They usually live in deep water far offshore. The more common sea nettle jellyfish usually populates Florida’s coasts. Biologists think weather patterns are responsible for the invasion. Mauve stinger populations tend to grow (a process known as blooming) significantly every 10 years or so based on weather cycles.

Shifting weather patterns have increased the amount of plankton in the Gulf of Mexico region. Jellyfish eat plankton, and the number of mauve stinger jellyfish has grown as a result. The Gulf Stream, a powerful current in the Atlantic Ocean, probably brought the large population of mauve stingers to the Florida coast.

Other species of jellyfish have been known to act as invasive species. These are animals not native to an area that cause harm to their environment and other animals around them. The mauve stinger could potentially cause similar environmental problems.

Some researchers think that this jellyfish invasion has just begun. The population is so high now that their natural predators (animals that hunt and eat them), like sea turtles and fish, might not be able to keep their population under control. The jellyfish problem might just get worse over the next year.

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