Concerns about alien species rise amid plans to widen Suez Canal

Marine biologists fear the spread of certain alien species, including the harmful Nomadic Jellyfish, in the Mediterranean

The Nomadic Jellyfish (Rhopilema Nomadica) was sighted in Maltese waters some years ago, but it was never present in large groups
The Nomadic Jellyfish (Rhopilema Nomadica) was sighted in Maltese waters some years ago, but it was never present in large groups

The widening of the Suez Canal on Thursday 6th August is an occasion for much pomp and ceremony, and it could spell an economic upturn  for the country, However, it has also raised concerns of an entirely different nature.

Marine biologists and conservationists have expressed great concerns about the possibility of more alien species making their way into the Mediterranean.  Some 500 scientists have already petitioned the Egyptian authorities to carry out an unbiased environmental impact assessment, according to Italian newspaper La Repubblica. 

One such species of concern is the Nomadic jellyfish, known by its scientific name as Rhopilema nomadica, which has already made it into the Mediterranean, and as far West as Malta and Tunisia.

Marine biologist and researcher Alan Deidun told Malta Today, that although present, the species was not yet a cause for alarm in Malta as only individuals had been spotted, and then again only in 2004 and 2011.  

“The problem with this species is when it appears in groups or blooms, sometimes numbering around a million,” Deidun said.

“This species is known to clog power station pipes and even whole fishing nets towards Israel, Lebanon and Turkey,” he added describing the economic issues such a species could create.

He added that the jellyfish could often grow to something like the size of a football and weigh some 10 kg, and that its sting could be particularly uncomfortable, but not fatal.

“Unfortunately it has been seen in clumps in Tunisia, which could spell trouble for Malta, but so far no other sightings have been made,” Deidun said explaining that conditions in Malta didn’t seem to favour the species which often preferred warmer temperatures characteristic of the eastern Mediterranean.

Deidun urged the public to make use of the Spot the Jellyfish Campaign precisely to report any species they might see when they are at the beach. A leaflet with information about the various species is downloadable at; www.ioikids.net/jellyfish, and reporting can be done by matching the sighted jellyfish with the identification guide, giving the date and time of the sighting, and indicating the number of jellyfish seen  via SMS on 7922 2278.

Asked about what methods could be used to reduce the impact of such species, Deidun said that not much could be done by way of repelling them except installing salinity barriers, and bubble curtains, since jellyfish were scared of bubbles.

“On a more long-term scale one of the things that could be done is to reduce overfishing in the Mediterranean,” he said.

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