Over the weekend, beaches across Queensland were closed because of a ‘jellyfish epidemic’. According to rescue organizations, thousands of people were stung in the region last week.
Although the vast majority of stings were not life-threatening and were caused by bluebottle colonies (Physalia physalis), the number of more serious injuries from less common species of jellyfish is also above average.
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According to some scientists, the invasion of jellyfish may be another consequence of climate change and recent heatwaves in Australia. This claim is controversial because of a lack of long-term data, but the way jellyfish got to the beaches of Queensland is obvious — they were assisted by unusually strong winds and their direction.
In addition, most researchers agree that jellyfish populations respond positively to a number of anthropogenic changes, including pollution, overfishing and rising water temperatures. All of this reduces the number of predators that feed on them and of competitive species.
While Irukandji jellyfish (Carukia barnesi) can cause many hours of pain and potential strokes, the number of deaths from their stings is relatively small. By 2017, only two fatalities had been recorded in Queensland, according to the Health Ministry. Much more dangerous are box jellyfish (Cubozoa), which have caused more than 70 fatalities across Australia.
Even though there is no definite way to predict future deaths from the spread of jellyfish, Australian researchers are concerned that their number may increase significantly.
«Those stings are an indication that something is wrong with our oceans, and we should pay attention,» said Lisa Gershwin of Australia’s national science agency.