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June 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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What Happened to Palauís Jellyfish?

from the June, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Some of Palau's rock islands bear unique ecosystems caused when lakes got landlocked over eons of time. Some of these saltwater lakes are full of jellyfish, and without any predators, they have evolved into a sub-species without any powerful stings. One of the great attractions of Palau has been the possibility to snorkel in Jellyfish Lake. But where have the jellyfish gone?

Previous estimates of jellyfish populations have numbered around eight million, but now it seems there are only a few hundred thousand surviving. In recent weeks, tourists have struggled to find any. Scientists blame a severe drought coupled with raised seasonal air temperatures caused by the El NiŮo effect.

Palau has always enjoyed a regular tropical deluge in the past, but rainfall during the first quarter of this year has been the lowest recorded for 65 years. The Coral Reef Research Foundation noted that the lack of rain and reduced run-off of rainwater has resulted in an increase in salinity of the lake.

While scientists say there's every chance that jellyfish numbers will rebound when conditions improve, Collin Joseph, a coastal manager for Palau's Koror State, thinks adult jellyfish have pretty much died out completely, while some juveniles remain.

In April, local operator Sam's Tours told its sales agents, "Many tour companies including ours that have been taking guests to the [jellyfish] lake have not seen any jellyfish. We at Sam's Tours have, therefore, decided to suspend our tours to Jellyfish Lake with immediate effect until further notice."

The golden jellyfish population may be on the verge of crashing, although it crashed in 1999 but recovered within eighteen months. Tova Harel of Fish & Fins wrote to tell us it had started raining at last and hopes things will improve. However, if you've already had the experience of snorkeling with the jellyfish, you'd better treasure it. It might not be possible to repeat!

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