Jellyfish forecasting coming to a beach near you!

Jellyfish are fascinating creatures. Although they are able to swim, most of their lifecycle they drift with the currents and in some cases even with the wind. Within the two thousand species of jellyfish known, there is an enormous variability of colours, transparencies, sizes and shapes.

Sea Nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens) Jellyfish in captivity in the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Sea Nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens) jellyfish in captivity at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (copyright: Brocken Inaglory, 2007)

Their diet consists mainly of plankton, although some of them also eat small marine animals (usually, in larval state). In order to eat, jellyfish catch their victims using their tentacles, which are covered in toxic stingers. This method, which has been improved over 650 millions years, has allowed them to be some of the oldest multi-organic animals on Earth (by comparison, the first primates appeared only 60 million years ago).

Up to here, we can’t say much against these beautiful animals. However, the coexistence between jellyfish and humans has been getting more complicated lately, mainly due to their large proliferation and the increased presence of human activities along the coast over the last decades. The same tentacles that jellyfish use for eating can be a serious problem for humans. Their stings may incur anything from a mild rash to severe pain, spasms, and in some cases even cardiac arrest. Fortunately for those of us in this area of the world, most of the cases reported in the Mediterranean Sea are mild rashes, so they’ll just ruin a nice beach day at the most.


Less marine turtles in the Mediterranean are thought to be one of the causes behind jellyfish populations rising (the picture is of a green turtle off Hawaii. Copyright: Brocken Inaglory, 2005)

Climate change, increasing marine pollution and other factors such as a decreasing populations of the jellyfish’s predators (marine turtles, for example) have increased the number of jellyfish reaching our shores over the past few years. Public and private institutions have become concerned about this fact and have increased their interest in finding ways of reducing jellyfish numbers, as well as offering jellyfish alert systems. In the latter case, these types of systems offer beachgoers helpful information to decide what beach to spend the day on during their holidays.

At Starlab, after conducting several projects in the Mediterranean (Catalonia) and the North Atlantic, we have developed a service that allows us to predict the presence of jellyfish on our shores. In particular, during the different Mediterranean campaigns our system achieved a successful prediction accuracy of around 88%.


Jellyfish warning sign (copyright: Wikipedia)

For the proper operation of our jellyfish prediction system, Starjelly, we require an initial collection campaign of beach observations. During this collection campaign, for each observation the presence/absence of jellyfish is reported. Once this campaign is done, we feed this data to the system, which determines through learning algorithms what marine conditions lead to the appearance or absence of jellyfish in a particular spot. More concretely, the system learns which levels of salinity, temperature, currents, surface sea height and other values are conducive to the appearance/absence of jellyfish. This information on the marine conditions is obtained from satellites (earth observation data) such as those of the European Copernicus Sentinel constellation. This way, once the system has learnt which conditions have been given in each case, it can evaluate new data and provide a risk level for jellyfish appearance on a certain beach.

For more information on the service we’ve developed, you can go to the product lines section located on our website. We’re also looking forward to receiving any comments from our readers… are jellyfish also a problem on the beaches where you live?

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