Would You Believe Jellyfish Are Natural Filters for Microplastics?
By Maria Bruzhayte
Jellyfish provide a substantial benefit to marine life as food for large fish and turtles. They also provide a habitat for small fish to hide from predators.
Rising temperatures and changes in ocean acidification are creating an unregulated breeding ground for venomous jellies pushing them closer to populated coastal cities.
The increasing numbers of these toxic creatures pose a significant threat to people. Amazingly enough, their rising numbers also make them an unlikely ally in tackling another major problem – ocean microplastic pollution.
What is The Relationship Between Jellyfish and Other Marine Life?
Jellyfish serve an important role in the marine food chain. They feed on zooplankton and crustaceans while sharks, sea turtles, and even other jellyfish feed on them.
Dr. Jonathan Houghtan, a senior lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, says that jellyfish are a lot like gingerbread houses – in that they are both a house and food to be eaten.
Unfortunately, because of climate change, overfishing, and lack of predators, jellyfish numbers are skyrocketing. This causes significant dangers to humans and coastal communities.
Their overabundance often interferes with power plants, cooling systems, fishing nets, and beach goers, who suffer painful and even lethal stings. While they have an important role in their aquatic community, this unprecedented population increase now threatens other marine organisms as well.
Much like jellyfish, who adapt to the changing climate, jellyfish experts are looking for unique ways to make use of their rising numbers. Many believe jellyfish don’t have any pharmaceutical or dietary use, so Japan decided to tackle their jellyfish bloom by turning them into a culinary delicacy. They’re used as a fuel source and brewed into a new drink for customers to enjoy.
What is Research Turning Up?
Unparalleled approaches and out of the box thinking are inspiring scientists to explore jellyfish, whose dominance wreaks havoc on marine life, as a possible trap for microplastics in the ocean.
“We put the mucus in some water and then spiked it with microparticles. The slimy part attached to the particles,” said Katja Klun, a marine chemist at Piran’s National Institute of Biology.  The research is still new, but the discovery could lead to a microplastics filter that will aid in ocean clean up.
GoJelly, a European Union funded project, is tackling the problem of plastic pollution by using jellyfish to create a microfiltration system for both commercial and public use. The jellyfish apocalypse may be caused by human intervention, however; their ability to withstand harsh climates and adapt to new and changing environments make them a powerful ally. The research is still ongoing, but the untapped potential of jellyfish could make them a natural solution to a man-made problem.
Consider participating in one of our Ocean Cleanup Project to help and check out Do Fish Get Microplastic Indigestion? to learn more about how microplastics affect marine life. Read more about the Shark Crisis.
Author Bio: Maria Bruzhayte is a Los Angeles based writer, animator, and a contributor to the Ocean Blue Project blog.