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Contributing to the International CIESM “Jellyfish” Blooms Watch Programme

01 September 2010

While jellyfish and jelly-like invertebrate species are a natural feature of the Mediterranean Sea, "jelly blooms" were rare episodes until the last eight years, when massive swarms of gelatinous organisms became a frequent sight in coastal waters. Such events represent a nuisance for swimmers, and in the case of certain species may become a real health hazard. They are considered a pest by fishermen, as they clog nets, keep away fish and consume fish larvae. In recent years, a number of industrial marine cooling systems had to be put temporarily out of order as jellies clogged the underwater pipes. The resulting socio-economic impacts - both direct (tourism) and indirect (coastal development, fisheries) - are thus tangible. From an ecosystem perspective, the apparent increase and synchrony of jellyfish outbreaks in both western and eastern Mediterranean basins are sending warning signals of a potential phase shift from a fish to a "gelatinous sea". Although overfishing, coastal habitat degradation and climate warming are amongst the most probable drivers, the specific causes and mechanisms are not well identified, and the lack of reference data makes any further investigation difficult.

The CIESM Jelly Watch Program, a concept developed by Dr. Ferdinando Boero, was set up in 2009 to gather for the first time baseline data on the frequency and extent of jellyfish outbreaks across the Mediterranean Sea.

After a successful pilot test phase that focused on general records of jellyfish involving the public in various ways, a common, standardized protocol including systematic recording of presence/absence data has been adopted for both coastal and open sea sightings of jellyfish swarms in the whole Basin, enabling an unbiased assessment of the geographic and temporal scale of these mass events so as to allow in time trend analysis and short term forecasting of jellyfish bloom transport.

The CIESM JellyWatch Phase II is currently implemented in coastal sectors in various Mediterranean waters including Maltese. Dr. Adriana Vella, PhD, conservation biologist at the University of Malta, is the focal point in the Maltese Islands for this international research programme. She has been involved in assisting jellyfish research in the Mediterranean for a number of years now. A recently published scientific paper on the jellyfish Pelagia noctiluca across European seas by Katja Stopara et. al. 2010 was also possible through Dr. Vella's collaboration. Dr. Vella has also been involved in local awareness of jellyfish blooms and their impacts on marine biodiversity through features in the press, interviews on TV and in organising public seminars on biodiversity, including jellyfish, through BICREF's voluntary work.

Local sea-users, fishermen, divers, swimmers, tourists, local councils through assistance of the Local Councils Association, and marine researchers, such as, Dr. Vella and NGOs, such as, BICREF, will be contributing to this detailed international programme, which sees data gathered in Maltese waters contribute to Mediterranean-wide research, coordinated by the Mediterranean Science Commission (CIESM). CIESM was created early in the last century to promote international research in the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. CIESM acts as a focus for the exchange of ideas, the communication of scientific information and the development of scientific standards across the Basin. Gained knowledge may allow Mediterranean countries deal with current conditions and problems. Our marine biodiversity needs to be conserved through detailed observations and studies that allow us to consider the various changes affecting such biodiversity.

Anyone wishing to receive a JellyWatch Poster and wishing to take active part in this program by making available sighting records of jellyfish blooms when out at sea or around Maltese coasts may do so by emailing:
or contacting: Dr. Adriana Vella, Department of Biology, University of Malta, Msida, MSD 2080.

For further details, please contact:
PO BOX 30,
Mob: 9923 2114