Thursday, October 07, 2010

SIDON: A large number of dead jellyfish, as well as the emergence of new marine life, have been recently spotted in Lebanon’s ocean with climate change thought to be a possible cause behind the rare events.

The rare occurrences were observed off the south’s coastal city of Sidon, where jellyfish vanished months before the end of their regular season and new species of fish have appeared.

Fishermen and marine experts discovered that the disappearance of the jellyfish was due to an unusually extensive death of the mushroom-like water creatures.

At first, fishermen thought the marine animals relocated to deeper levels of the sea, but they later realized that the bottom of the sea was filled with numerous jellyfish cadavers.

Head of the Association for Professional Divers Mohammad al-Sariji told The Daily Star Tuesday he was shocked to discover hundreds of dead jellyfish.

Sariji photographed the animals during a number of dives and confessed that he was unaware of the reason behind “the collective deaths.”

However, he suggested that the elevation in water temperature to 31 degrees Celsius could have been the reason behind the deaths. “This is the first time the water temperature has reached this limit,” he said.

Sariji then urged marine scientists to conduct an urgent study to reveal any possible effects that this new case could have on biodiversity and other marine animals.

The director of the Marine Science Center, Gaby Khalaf, confirmed witnessing the change and said: “We noticed this year that the jellyfish did not appear in the sea for too long.”

He reckoned that the early disappearance of the jellyfish was due to fast water currents – environmental conditions that are not suitable for reproduction, and to nutritional factors.

Khalaf said the center was conducting the necessary research to find a precise cause for the phenomenon.

Nonetheless, the disappearance of the jellyfish was not the only strange occurrence.

While the jellyfish, famous for their toxic and painful sting, were dying, a new breed of jellyfish was emerging.

Marine experts noticed the arrival of the new-colored jellyfish which were different in shape to those commonly found in Lebanese waters and unable to release toxic substances.

“This is the first time we see this new type of jellyfish. We don’t know where it’s from, what it really is and why it has come to our shore,” Sariji said, noting that the new species of jellyfish had been in the sea for weeks without nearing the shore.

Several divers also described the new jellyfish as harmless and noise-friendly.

The new jellyfish was not the only new species seen at the Sidon harbor. A new breed of fish was seen swimming in the water and fishermen confessed they had never seen anything like it before. “The new animal doesn’t resemble any type of fish I’ve seen. It’s like a mixture of several breeds of fish,” said Ayman Nasser.

Nasser and his colleagues also noticed the new fish was not edible and followed, rather than distancing itself from people.

Khalaf explained the presence of the new species as a result of Climate change. “Studies the center have been conducting for 30 years prove the water temperature rose by 2 degrees Celsius this year, as opposed to the usual 1.5 degrees Celsius … This has led to modifications in the marine biodiversity and to the appearance of species coming from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal.”

Khalaf then warned that the new type of fish could be poisonous if eaten and noted that it was commonly known as “the attacker” because it often attacked other fish.

Whether or not the reason behind the strange events was climate change, fishermen and experts alike agreed that the future of Lebanon’s sea was unpredictable. “I’ve been working as a fisherman for 50 years and I’m still astonished by all the secrets of the sea,” said Sidon fisherman. “What a surprise we got this year!”