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Plague of jellyfish: The economic and biological effect

On July 20th, YPARD-Egypt participated in a workshop on the impact and response to the recent infestation of Jellyfish along Egypt’s North Coast. The workshop was organized by the Arab Federation for Wildlife Protection (AFWP), an Arab League specialized organization, in association with the Institute of Environmental Research at Ain Shams University. The main aim of the workshop was to assess the serious impacts of Jellyfish swarms on the economies and environments of the North Coast of the country and to explore potential strategies to respond and mitigate these impacts. The workshop brought together around a hundred participants representing major shareholders including the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Environment, concerned marine research institutions, representative from the tourism and private sector organizations, and other NGOs.

During his welcome address, Dr. Bahaa Badr, the chairman of AFWP highlighted that the mission of the Federation has since its establishment in 2006, under the umbrella of the Council of Arab Economic Unity of the League of Arab States, been to actively engage with governmental and non-governmental organizations to achieve the sustainable protection and conservation of wildlife species and habitats within the Arab States. Furthermore, he illustrated that “it is not the first time that Jellyfish invades Egypt's north coast, however the attack is relatively more intense than previous attacks”.  

Dr. Hisham Al-Qassas, an environmental science researcher at the Institute of Environmental Research and Studies, suggested that increasing global environmental changes, such as climate change, increasing seawater temperatures, and increased eutrophication may have caused such significant increases in jellyfish invasions of coastal zones worldwide, including the Mediterranean countries. According to Al-Qassas, Jellyfish are likely to affect the structure of the food web due to their high consumption rates, fast growth and reproduction rates, and tolerance to these ecosystem changes.

In contrast, Dr. Hala Awadallah, from the Institute of Environmental Research and Studies, showed that despite the negative effects if jellyfish on the economy of the coastal zones, they can provide beneficial ecosystem services such as regulating service through carbon sequestration, providing foods, and producing human medications. To cite some examples, she showed that scientists have successfully extracted a non-addictive painkiller from jellyfish venom similar to one which had been found in the cone snail. Also, researchers have recently isolated a compound from jellyfish venom which can kill bacteria which have high resilience.

Following these presentations, the participants engaged in an open discussion which centered on the economics and environmental impacts of Jellyfish and the potential strategies to minimize these impacts and maximize the benefits that can be gained from Jellyfish. A participant from a marine science research institution highlighted that jellyfish have for long been considered an unimportant factor in the coastal economies, however they now are playing increasingly significant roles in coastal ecosystems and processes.

Another participant pointed out that supporting and protecting the species that feed on jellyfish, such as sea turtles could be an approach to respond to the spread of jellyfish. Another participant from the aquaculture sector pointed out that the regular occurrence of jellyfish blooms around the Egyptian north coast is likely to lead to more negative consequences for tourism, fishing, and fish farming sectors in the future. With respect to the tourism sector, the private sector organizations expressed the economic problems they encountered this summer in particular due to Jellyfish attacks as “vacationers are complaining about the growing numbers of Jellyfish as they are simply afraid to get into the water”. This in turn has led many vacationers to shorten their stays and has in turn “greatly reduced the occupancy ration in many tourist resorts this summer”.

The discussions resulted in a number of useful policy recommendations which may help reduce the adverse effects of Jellyfish on the North Coast of the country, and the participants have particularly agreed that there is an urgent need to carry out comprehensive in-depth research to study the Jellyfish infestations phenomenon taking into account the ecological and the economic dimensions as well as the negative impacts and the potential positive benefits that can be utilized.  

Photo credit: Shaimaa Hatab