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The fried egg jellyfish (qassata) season kicks off

24 August 2015

The Spot the Jellyfish citizen science campaign has been inundated with reports from the public about the annual appearance of the fried jellyfish (Cotylorhiza tuberculata). Individuals of this non-stinging surface species were photographed by members of the public in Delimara, Golden Bay and along the northern coast of Gozo.

According to Spot the Jellyfish coordinator Prof. Alan Deidun, the attractive fried egg jellyfish species is common in the western and central Mediterranean and its development is mainly dictated by the water temperature. This non-stinging species, which is known as ‘qassata' in Maltese since it is reminiscent of this popular pastry treat, blooms after mid-August, during lampuki fishing season, and its purple-tipped tentacles provide refuge for the juveniles of many open-water fish species, including horse mackerel, pilot fish and even dolphin fish (lampuki) themselves. Tentacles of the species house microscopic single-cell algae which live in symbiosis with the jellyfish, and this is the main reason why the species sticks to surface waters since the algae harvest the sun's rays.

This year, the Physical Oceanography Unit at the University of Malta will try to track the movement of the fried egg jellyfish bloom through innovative means, in order to validate the jellyfish dispersion model being developed by the same research group and which will be launched to the public in the coming weeks.

The Spot the Jellyfish initiative, which is coordinated by Prof. Alan Deidun and Prof. Aldo Drago and other staff at the PO Unit, is supported by the MTA, Nature Trust, Friends of the Earth, SharkLab and the Ekoskola and the Blue Flag Malta programmes. The initiative follows a citizen science approach and relies on the collaboration of the public, sea farers, divers, and especially youngsters - through their teachers and parents - who are encouraged to assist in recording the presence and location of different jellyfish through the use of a reporting leaflet. The leaflet is being widely distributed, and can be downloaded from the website www.ioikids.net (clicking on the jellyfish banner), which also contains snippets of information and anecdotes about different jellyfish species.

Reporting is done by simply matching the sighted jellyfish with a simple visual identification guide, giving the date and time of the sighting, and indicating the number of individuals seen. Sightings can be reported online, or by sending a text message to 79604109, or an e-mail message to ioi-moc@um.edu.mt. Strange-looking jellyfish that are not included on the leaflet should be caught and kept in a bucketful of seawater prior to contacting Prof Deidun on e-mail (alan.deidun@um.edu.mt) or the PO Unit on 23402844 to collect for definite identification of the species. If this is not possible, photos of the jellyfish should be taken and sent to the PO Unit's offices at the University of Malta.