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Nr. 93, 27.01.2018  voriger  Übersicht  weiter

What to do with all the jellyfish?

Jellyfish are increasingly occurring in swarms – much to the detriment of tourism, fishing and other industries. A simulation game is to demonstrate how to deal with this nuisance and find possible solutions.

Attractive to look at, yet still extremely unpopular. A research project is looking for solutions to too many jellyfish. Image: Thinkstock

Jellyfish are anything but popular. Staged photographically, they might have a certain aesthetic appeal, but they are almost the last thing swimmers want to encounter in the sea – not least because the consequences can be painful and even fatal. The creatures, which are among the oldest on the planet, can be bad for business for some industries, even threatening their survival. Jellyfish bloom in aquaculture can destroy the entire stock in a single blow and is worthless if caught in fishing nets. Jellyfish are increasingly entering the cooling water inflows to power stations, blocking them and causing the power station to shut down. Desalination plants will also go on strike if infested by jellyfish bloom.

Forecasters say the problem is only going to get worse. Jellyfish appear to be benefiting from overfishing and the rising water temperatures that result from climate change. They are reproducing extremely well, and are dominating more and more coastlines. This is according to Dr Jörn Schmidt from the Department of Economics at Kiel University.

The fish ecologist from the Group of Environmental, Resource and Ecological Economics (headed by Professor Martin Quaas) is involved in the European research project "GoJelly", which is coordinated by the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. Instead of complaining about the jellyfish bloom, the project is seeking ways of catching it and using it for profit. One idea is to construct a microplastic filter system from the slime of the jellyfish. Schmidt: "Many types of jellyfish produce mucous for feeding or as defence against predators. They effectively spread out fans of slime, which plankton attaches itself to, and the jellyfish then eat."

Initial studies have shown that this slime can bind nanoparticles, so it might also be able to bind microplastics. The project, which also involves researchers at Kiel University, is now addressing the question as to whether it is possible to manufacture biofilters for microplastics on an industrial level. They could then be used wherever there is waste water from purification plants or factories containing microplastics. Fish food, plant fertilizers and cosmetics are other products that could also be manufactured using jellyfish biomass.

The economics working group and the Norwegian research institute SINTEF Ocean AS, Trondheim, are addressing the social and economic aspects of this issue. Through surveys involving the population and interest groups (tourism, fishery, aquaculture, industry), they want to assess the general awareness of the problem. "We want to establish just how much the interest groups are actually affected and how relevant the subject is for them," explains Dr Schmidt. In addition, the public is also to be asked how aware they are of jellyfish in different regions and whether there is a habituation effect.

Jörn Schmidt's main task in the project will be to develop a video game on the problems of jellyfish bloom and possible solutions. Dr Schmidt, who is also a member of the Cluster of Excellence "The Future Ocean", is already an experienced game inventor. He developed the game EcoOcean for the Cluster, which simulates the problems of overfishing. He sees the new game as being similar.

“The idea is to develop a planning game that has various players such as fishery, industry, public/tourism who need to consider how to deal with a jellyfish bloom. They can then see the consequences of the various actions directly themselves."

The aim is to use the game to create an understanding of how jellyfish blooms develop and what interactions there are. "Games are a great way to share knowledge with the public, and also as a tool in discussions with stakeholders," explains Schmidt. In particular, it would give the players a clear picture of the problems, as well as the option to research solutions from various perspectives, for instance from the viewpoint of the fishing industry, of aquaculture operators or tourism management.

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