What is Going on in the Jersey Shore’s Waters?

I am not a marine biologist, but working for Brookdale Community College’s Ocean Institute means I am in the water with school groups from all over the state almost every weekday in May and June. It did not take this somewhat shocking story from Monmouth Musings a few days ago to tell me that something is definitely going on in the Jersey Shore’s waters. I am referring to the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers, as well as the Sandy Hook bay area. I have had this job for two years, and when we conduct seining programs with children, we have always pulled up clear jellyfish. They don’t sting and the kids enjoy holding them and seeing how they slide around in their hands. We then put them in a small pool with our other specimens before releasing everything at the end of the session. However, two weeks ago, I started noticing a prominence of Lion’s Mane Jellyfish (which I will just refer to as “red jelly”) floating around us and washing up on the sand. These were usually few and far between in recent years. No one has gotten stung yet, and they are easy to maneuver around and avoid. But it did strike me as odd at how many there were that just seemed to appear out of nowhere. Now on Wednesday, when a man was stung by a Clinging Jellyfish in the Shrewsbury River (noted in the above link), something which is native to the Pacific Ocean, that is when my alarm was raised.

The Clinging Jellyfish which stung a man from Middletown sent him to the hospital. If untreated, a sting can cause kidney failure, and the sensation it caused in the man (who is a friend of a friend) was described as “being stabbed with tiny knives all over the body”. Another description read that it could make your entire body feel like being in a big Charlie Horse. Either way, it is not something you want to deal with. This is made even worse by the fact that they are only about the size of a dime, and after their namesake, “cling” to the sand on seaweed, grass, or algae. You will most likely not be able to see it when walking around in the water or swimming. My friend who works marine construction on the Navesink texted the picture below to me last night. He caught four of these same Clinging Jellyfish just yesterday alone. That means there are definitely more on the way.

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If there is any good news in all of this, is that they are not strong enough to withstand ocean currents. This means that the summer season on the Jersey Shore where millions of visitors hit our ocean-side beaches will not be in peril. There is plenty of tourism on the river side, though, and people must be made aware. I am not sure how much news such an event will garner since the sounding of such an alarm might affect tourism, and we know money trumps all else, especially in New Jersey. As someone who works in the water frequently with the Ocean Institute, which is down on Sandy Hook, the show must go on. I will be back in the water next week. But this will certainly be in the back of my mind. Just yesterday, before seining, a few coworkers and I scanned the waters on the bay side by C Beach, and we pulled up close to 20 red jellies with a small net just in a short time. Like I said, these are not too big of a deal, since the sting only leaves a small burning sensation.

It did get me thinking as to what exactly is going on, in relation to the Clinging Jellyfish which is normally from the other coast. People have speculated that they came in attached to a shipping tanker, but ships from all over the world have been pouring into the area for decades, and nothing like this has ever been a result. A coworker added possibly global warming, which is always the first instinct, but it still might not explain how something from the Pacific Ocean ended up in the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers in New Jersey. Something is going on, but what? I will leave it to someone smarter than I to figure out. We can just hope that they will not be a mainstay.

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