DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — Labor Day is a little over a week away, and for many people that means it’s time to hit the beaches. This year, many Labor Day visitors to Florida’s Gulf Coast will be met there by jellyfish — and a lot of them.
WKRG News 5 spoke with a marine biologist about the massive smacks (a group of jellyfish is called a smack) of Atlantic sea nettles in the waters off Navarre, Destin and other Gulf Coast destinations.
“Yeah, so that is normal. It is a little abnormal for how much there is, but every year we get migrations or movement of jellyfish, and typically a lot of people are seeing moon jellies and blue buttons closer to shore,” said Brennan Wehrhahn, a marine biologist with the Divers Down Pollution Project and Aquatech Eco Consultants. “But you go just a little bit farther out off the shore in the gulf you will see giant collections or giant smacks of sea nettles.”
Wehrhahn said the sheer amount being seen right now is more than normal, but not unexplainable. The streak of sunny weather and south winds can bring more nutrients to the water, making it more suitable for repopulating jellyfish.
“One thing that causes massive spawns of jellyfish like that is eutrophication, and eutrophication is the overabundance of nutrients. A typical thing that we see in northwest Florida during the summertime,” said Wehrhahn. “Just how Algae is able to bloom faster, the similar case in jellyfish, as they tend to spawn a lot quicker when there’s an abundance of nutrients.”
What jellyfish are typical for northwest Florida waters?
Moon jellies, comb jellies, blue buttons, and Atlantic sea nettles are the most common jellyfish in the northwest region of Florida waters. Pourtugeuse man o’ war are not considered jellyfish, but are also found along the coast packing a mean sting.
Out of the jellyfish species, Sea Nettles have the worst sting locally. Wehrhahn said they can sting you even when dead or found cut in waves or by boat propellers in the water.
“When the jellyfish is broken up by wave action Its stinging cells are still active on the organism and so you might not see a jellyfish anywhere near you but a pair of floating tentacles can sting you,” said Wehrhahn.
How long will the jellyfish stick around?
Until a shift in the weather comes with rainfall and a northern wind, Wehrhahn said the jellyfish will stick around. Jellyfish can move up and down in a water current column but are not strong enough to fight it. The late summer and early fall months are typical for jellyfish migration season.
Wehrhahn said the best thing to do if you see a jellyfish is to leave it alone. Smacks may not be ideal for your beach vacation, but jellyfish are necessary for the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.
“It’s a unique phenomenon and that’s a part of the dynamic ecosystem of the northern Gulf of Mexico and I think it’s just something people should just appreciate,” said Wehrhahn. “Having jellyfish there is important because they do provide a crucial food source for many sea turtles. Green Sea turtles supplement jellyfish with vegetation but some of the other sea turtles that we have like Kemp’s Ridley and loggerheads and leatherbacks primarily snack on jellyfish and so having all these is first of all, good for turtles.”