Monday, 6 July 2015

The 'jellyfish invasion' story one newspaper didn't want you to read Steve Backshall

TV presenter and naturalist Steve Backshall was asked by a British newspaper to write about the ‘invasion’ of jellyfish this summer. But they didn’t like what he had to say, so we’re publishing it here in full instead

Friday 3 July 2015 14.13 BSTLast modified on Friday 3 July 201515.54 BST

While the sunshine may be an unpredictable visitor to UK summer shores, there’s one silly season certainty that you can count on. It’s an invasion striking terror into the hearts of humble Brits, causing widespread panic, forcing terrified tourists to abandon our seas and seek safer foreign waters. Yes, it’s the early summer newspaper headline, designed to get us all terrified of Mother Nature.

Whether it’s false widow spiders that leap from their webs and rot your flesh, vile sunspiders that inject novocaine into our British soldiers, rats the size of cows, man-eating foxes or a lone great white shark travelling across the Atlantic with the sole intent of savaging plucky Cornish surfers, testicle-munching pacu fish set to invade our seas … these genuine news stories have two things in common: they are factual nonsense, and they all contain the message that nature is evil, and she’s out to get you.

So recent headlines about swarms of barrel jellyfish about to close British beaches come as no great surprise. But is there any truth in them?

Certainly jellyfish are seasonal, and owing to a complex range of environmental features there are years when they will appear in far greater numbers. Warmer waters, plankton blooms, phosphate and nitrate-rich run-off from farmland, paucity of natural predators – all of these can play a part, and when the conditions are right, jellyfish numbers can rise dramatically.

With a limited ability to swim against ocean currents, the jellies get concentrated into dense rafts often close to the surface and tracking natural eddies. These will occasionally be stranded on beaches at the high tide mark, and it makes for a spectacular photograph (particularly if you place a wide-angled lens super-close to the nearest jelly, which makes it look huge, a technique known as “foreshortening”, used often in these type of wildlife reports).

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