January 24, 2007—It's summer down under, and at many Australian beaches the sands have turned as blue as the water.
Huge armadas of toxic bluebottle jellyfish are swamping Australia's east coast in record numbers, putting the sting on peak beach season.
More than 30,000 people were stung by the translucent blue jellies on this coast last year—more than twice the number of incidents in 2005—according to Australia's lifeguard group, Surf Life Saving (SLS).
And in a single weekend earlier this month, beachgoers reported more than 1,200 stings, several requiring hospitalization.
The recent influx is the result of a wind shift that has pushed flotillas of the invertebrates ashore, scientists say. But the overall trend suggests that the 6-inch-long (15-centimeter-long) jellyfish are growing in number due to warming ocean waters.
"[Their] numbers are closely tied with environmental changes, and last year was obviously a very aggressive year for them," Lisa-Ann Gershwin, a jellyfish expert with SLS, told Reuters news service.
The bluebottle surge coincides with growing droves of other jellyfish worldwide, including a recent spike in giant Nomura's jellyfish in Japan and rafts of jellies that swamped Mediterranean shores last summer.
Those infestations have also been linked to warmer waters, suggesting that this will not be the last beach season to be ruined by marine stingers.
"Jellyfish have been around for 600 million years," Gershwin told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"They have perfected the art of survival and are very good at taking advantage of changing conditions."
—Blake de Pastino
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