The EcoJel Project is a four-year project funded by the European Union Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and is a collaboration between Swansea University (Wales) and University College Cork (Ireland). EcoJel aims to assess the opportunities and detrimental impacts of jellyfish in the Irish Sea.
There is a concern that the abundance of jellyfish is increasing globally as a result of climate change and degradation of marine ecosystems under the pressure of human activities. In many places in the world, jellyfish blooms (a sudden, massive increase of jellyfish numbers) have already proved they can have critical socio-economic impacts e.g. clogging fishing nets, causing mass mortalities of farmed salmon, or blocking the cooling water intake of power stations. They are also suspected to prey (feed) on certain fish eggs and larvae and thus may limit the potential recovery of already weakened fish stocks.
Why the Irish Sea?
Several jellyfish ‘hotspots’ have been identified in the Irish Sea where they already have had negative impacts on tourism (beach closures in Ireland around Dublin in 2005) and aquaculture (hundreds of thousands of farmed salmon died because of a massive jellyfish bloom in 2007), however our knowledge about these organisms in this region remains very limited.
Although we always tend to focus on the negative when we consider jellyfish, they might also provide some unexpected opportunities. For example, it may be possible to harvest jellyfish for export to the far-east market (where jellies are a delicacy) or even the potential of a developing recreational hotspots for divers to swim with blooms of giant jellyfish, similar to the experience offered by 'Jellyfish Lake', a well-known dive site in the Pacific island of Palau.
What are the specific aims of the EcoJel project?
The key objectives of EcoJel are to identify and manage the jellyfish threats and opportunities in the Irish Sea with the following specific aims:
Identify the threats of jellyfish nuisance blooms to bathers and minimize negatives impacts by raising the awareness on jellyfish and facilitate exchanges between "health- professionals" and specialists of jellyfish venom (Jellyfish Action and Awareness Campaign). Identify the impacts of jellyfish on fisheries and aquaculture and develop models to explore outcomes of climate change. Establish the movements and origin of pest jellyfish through the development of innovative tracking technologies (JellyTag) Identify the economic potential of harvesting jellyfish in a sustainable manner and a potential eco-tourism industry for recreational divers (Jellyfish Potential) Establishing the Irish Sea as a 'centre of excellence' for jellyfish research (JellyCore)