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18 September 2009

NI Goes On Jellyfish Alert

There's a warning this week over the possibility of NI being 'invaded'.

Soon after the Northern Salmon seawater farm off scenic Glenarm returned to full production - after it suffered a massive fish kill two years ago when an invasion by a massive shoal of billions of jellyfish wiped out more than 100,000 fish - the NI Environment Agency (NIEA) has issued a new jellyfish alert. It comes after Mauve Stingers were found on a beach on the north coast.

There's real nervousness as, two years ago, the deadly Mauve Stinger jellyfish shoal covered a 10 square mile area of water to a depth of 35 feet.

It killed all the fish by suffocation; such was their bulk in the water.

Glenarm Organic Salmon, which produces a range of salmon products for the premium organic fish market, has since been assisted by Invest Northern Ireland, particularly in activities such as marketing, after being refused direct funding to get back on its feet after the 'disaster'.

Now, the same type of jellyfish which led to the deaths of the 100,000 salmon have been found on the beach at White Park Bay.

Swimmers and surfers have been advised to be cautious as the jellyfish can deliver a nasty, powerful sting.

Scientists have been searching the beach for washed-up jellyfish, after a large number were brought up onto the sand on Thursday.

Councils along the coast have also been contacted, along with the fish farm hit in the swamping two years ago.

Meanwhile, off Glenarm, the salmon company has put nets outside its cages to try and prevent another swamping and has fitted an aeration system in case some jellyfish get into the cages.

Scientist are trying to work out why the jellyfish are hitting Northern Ireland's shores.

An NIEA marine biologist Gary Burrows explained the characteristics of the species: "The Pelagia noctiluca are small in size, have a globe-shaped bell, a warty appearance and are an overall 'purplish' colour.

"It can glow brightly at night if disturbed, as the second part of its Latin name suggests. Its sting is powerful and can produce a very severe reaction," he said.

Whilst mass strandings of jellyfish are partially a reflection of persistent onshore winds, there is a growing consensus that a combination of climate change and overfishing is resulting in increases in both the abundance and frequency of jellyfish blooms throughout the North Atlantic.

Warmer seas increase the rates of reproduction in some species and overfishing of species such as tuna and swordfish has also removed many of the jellyfish's natural predators.

Mr Burrows continued: "Whilst numbers stranded locally were impressive, there are no indications at this stage of a substantial bloom on the scale of the 2007 event.

"NIEA will continue to monitor jellyfish blooms through its ongoing marine surveillance programmes and inform DARD and local authorities of any further developments," he said and noted that the support to scientists studying jellyfish aggregations will continue through the provision of samples and periodic plankton trawls onboard the NIEA research vessel.

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