When the trials and tribulations of our modern age just get to be too much, people do different things to cope. Henry David Thoreau moved to Walden Pond. The Drifters went up on the roof. Kurt Cobain ate the business end of a shotgun.
Personally, when I find myself frazzled and worn down by this age of rampant overfishing and the pronounced abuse of our ocean, I want to grab Father Time by his cold little cajones and order him to turn back the clock to a simpler age.
Back in the good old days – and I’m talking about Biblical Egypt here – we didn’t have to worry about things like seafood sustainability and ocean conservation. It was enough to simply get through the day without being killed in battle, sacrificed to an animal-headed deity, or working your slaves to death while they built your pyramid.
But this carefree Golden Age didn’t last forever. The ancient Egyptians eventually found themselves on the wrong side of an angry old-school God, who, in retaliation for the mistreatment that they had visited on their enslaved Jews, started pulling all sorts of nasty stuff out of his Bag of Lordly Vengeance.
Imagine the fear and confusion on the faces of the Egyptians when they found themselves smitten by one plague after another. These river-dwelling elitists woke up to find locusts in the fields, frogs in their houses, darkness at noon and boils all over their bodies (the Bible doesn’t mention this final affliction occurring right before the Prom, but I’m sure that God took advantage of the timing.)
I, for one, had hoped that all of this divine retribution had run its course. Unfortunately, 4000 years after Pharaoh let Moses’ people go, a plague with an undeniable Old Testament feel to it has struck the Western Pacific.
The seas of Southern Japan are boiling with giant poisonous jellyfish. I’m not even joking about this.
Nomura’s jellyfish (echizen kurage in Japanese) is a formidable animal. Able to exceed six feet in length and grow to a weight of over 400 pounds, this invertebrate is no spineless wimp. These enormous cnidarians are massing in the East China Sea in greater numbers than ever previously recorded (even more than the great jellyfish invasion of 2005), forming a massive toxic flotilla that is gently drifting towards the Japanese coastline.
These humongous blobs are appearing in unheard of numbers. Recent surveys averaged their density at 2.41 jellyfish per 100 sqm (up from 0.01 per 100 sqm in 2008). And I’m not talking about square miles – that’s 2.4 jellyfish per 100 square meters.
These jellyfish cause a whole litany of problems for the local fishermen. Not only do they devour any fish that gets too close to their gigantic tentacles (these lethal ropes are thicker than the internet cable that transmitted this article to your terminal), but they also are easily tangled up in fishing nets and sting any unfortunate soul tasked with removing them.
To make matters worse, it’s very difficult to fight back against these gelatinous monstrosities. Killing the jellyfish by disrupting its physical structure merely results in the creature releasing thousands of polyps that, if left to their own devices, will grow to become mirror images of their late predecessor. This is a good system for perpetuating the species, but a terrible problem to those who would eradicate it.
As of now, no one has carved in stone the reasons behind this infestation, but we can venture some guesses. Ocean acidification is a likely culprit: we continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere, which is captured by the ocean and, through a chemical process, lowers the pH of the seawater. This process, plus global climate change, have created warmer, more acidic surface temperatures in the ocean, which are ideal for incubating jellyfish. Moreover, our perpetual quest to remove the largest fish from the oceans and either plop them on our Weber grills or nail them to the billiard room wall has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. With 90% of the oceans’ large predatory fish in severe decline, the jellyfish simply doesn’t have as many predators as it once did. Thus are these lovely but biologically primitive (and dangerous) animals running amok.
Sure, the driving force behind this jellyfish explosion may have more components than just those two aforementioned issues, but there is no doubt whatsoever that the overarching cause is anthropogenic. We did this. We have that kind of power.
Through the way we have treated the planet, we have invited this scourge upon ourselves – and it is up to us to fix it. We must change our ways: decrease our fishing capacity to lessen overfishing, and reduce our carbon emissions to keep acidification at bay.
To save his people, Moses led them into the waters, which parted before him. We must realize that we, too, have tremendous control over the sea. If we are to save ourselves, we must no longer be slaves to a system that has our entire ecosystem careening out of control. We must find the courage to confront reality, and to cross this desert we have created.