I get email alerts whenever anyone mentions jellyfish in a research article, and most of the time these alerts do not result in days of emotional confusion. But for almost two weeks I’ve been tiptoeing around this paper. Reading parts, feeling both angry and intrigued. Putting it down, and coming back to it later. It’s how I feel about Game of Thrones– do I hate it, love it? I’m just not sure. As a jelly biologist, my allegiance is with the jellies, always. However, I recognize they’re causing major problems around the world, clogging fishing nets and power plants, stinging people and ruining tourism. I get it, and it makes me sad. Starving babies and chemical polution also make me sad. This paper proposes a solution that could help solve all of these problems– it will help people eat, be organic and chemical free, and keeps jellies out of bays. All it requires is the saluter of thousands of jellyfish.
If we collect tons of jellies, de-salt and dry them, then mash them up into little bits and put them in soil, wouldn’t you know, rice grows better. In fact, jellyfish chips suppress weed growth and increase plant size, all without chemicals or fertilizers.
Not only is this solution great at getting rid of weeds and growing up big stalks of rice, but it also increases the harvest yield. With dried jellyfish farmers can grow as much rice as they can by using chemical fertilizers:
This is all great news for food production, and fans of organic farming practices, but really bad news if you’re a jellyfish. Jelly blooms are a natural part of the jelly life cycle, and without them jellies would be in trouble. But there’s a catch. When ecosystems are compromised by population or overfishing, some jelly species go nuts, taking over all the food and resources they used to share with fish. Like off the coast of Namibia, where overfishing has resulted in greater jellyfish biomass than fish biomass, numbers flipped from that of the pre-fishing ecosystem. In Japan (a country that loves its rice) giant jellies have been incredibly destructive to the fishing industry. And it’s not like many jellies make it alive out of these nets anyway.
If there is a way to curb jelly overpopulation in some areas, while also increasing food production, I guess I can’t argue. Places like Namibia may be able to benefit from their jellies, while rehabbing a damaged ecosystem at the same time. But it does break my heart a little to say that.