Jelly killing machine tested in Korea

I hate watching jellies suffer, and this is my personal version of Hell:

The Jellyfish Elimination Robotic Swarm,

The Jellyfish Elimination Robotic Swarm, Screen shot from this video.

These killing machines are called the Jellyfish Elimination Robotic Swarm, or JEROS, and they’re trouble. The fact that they’re trouble for jellies is a given, but they’re also going to have major impacts on ecosystems if produced on a large scale. First, let me just give you a sense of what the final moments of roughly 6,000 jellies per hour might be (not recommended for jelly lovers):

I completely appreciate the solution-focused approach these developers are taking. And it matters. Jellies recently shut down a nuclear reactor. They’re breaking fishing nets. Killing swimmers. Causing problems. But they’re causing problems because we’ve caused problems. The environment is changing on so many fronts that only some species are able to keep up. Some jelly populations are benefiting from our failures. Fixing the solution requires innovating thinking, and while I applaud the inventors efforts, let me break down why this is not going to be an effective long-term solution as it stands:

1) Where does all that dead jelly go? It continues to float around, rotting. Maybe it will sink, smothering the seafloor. Maybe it will wash onto beaches, through net barriers, where disembodied tentacles will sting tourists. The point is, it’s going to go somewhere, and none of the options are good. If you want to increase the health of the ecosystem, putting 10,800 kilograms (12 hours worth of mulching) of dead jelly into the water per day isn’t going to help. If you want to protect tourists from stings, this will make the problem worse, releasing all those tentacles to float independent of their bodies, getting through the smallest mesh. Want to protect power plants? As jelly aquarist Wyatt Patry put it: “Ever seen jellies get stuck on an intake screen? Hardly matters whether they are whole or in bits”. He’s right– the jelly substance itself is sticky, and will clog intakes alive or dead.

2) This won’t work for tough species. “Some jellies just don’t get macerated by a cutting blade, they bounce off” expert jelly researcher Dr. Martin Lilley points out. Animals like nomura’s jelly are actually really sturdy, and will likely just get stuck in the intake and stay there, halting the whole system.

3) When you cut open some jellies, you get artificial fertilization. That’s how aquarists are able to get eggs and sperm from species that are difficult to spawn, like stinging nettle jellies (read: bad sting).  Assuming you rip through 6000 jellies per hour for 12 hours, you’ve now released SEVENTY TWO THOUSAND jellies worth of eggs and sperm into the water all at once, rather than slowly over time. And where are those embryos going to go? They’re going to the sea floor to metamorphose into polyps, in stressful conditions that are now great for them and terrible for everyone else  (thanks to all the dead biomass floating around) and they’re going to multiply. Jelly polyps can live for years, and can clone themselves. One polyp can produce hundreds of clones, and each clone can produce hundreds of jellies. Get where I’m going with this?

So what now? Scientists are working on multiple fronts to tackle the jelly problem. My current favorite solution? Farming with jellies! Humanely harvesting whole jellies, removing the salt, and literally turning them to mulch. This mulch can be mixed into soil and used to fertilize rice fields. And it turns out rice grows better with jelly mulch, yielding as much rice as plants fertilized with chemical fertilizer. Feeding people, creating jobs. You’re removing a problem from one ecosystem, and finding a solution for another. I’m never a fan of killing jellies, but this is a solution I can get behind.

 

RR Helm (31 Posts)

I am a PhD candidate studying jellyfish development and evolution at Brown University. I've participated in numerous research expeditions, studying jellies all over the world, from Africa to the abyss. I am currently studying the beautiful mauve stinger jellies, found in the Mediterranean, and the ghostly Atlantic stinging nettles found on the US east coast.





19 comments on “Jelly killing machine tested in Korea
  1. Seems to me this is what used to be done with lobster many many years ago. Until people figured out that they were very good to eat indeed.

    “Hiding something Professor? A theory, perhaps???”

  2. Very astute RR Helm! The explosion of jellyfish across the Globe has been exponential. Italy, Gulf of Mexico, S. America, Arctic, Asia, Australia,… Yes, warming temps allow them to swarm in great numbers and farther on. A little here a little there and then “POOF”! They’d progressed from Vietnam, up the coast of China to the Yellow Sea, to the Western seas off Japan,…and then appearing all around Japan. Killing off not only fish Japan depends on, but also blooms of phyto-planktons, beneficial algaes and the young of many varied life forms that are needed by all other life – young and old. The phosphatic effluvium, human and farm waste, and heated water flowing out of Shanghai alone “pulled” them up from the “Point of Origin” (Gulf of Thailand) and now nothing lives. Even when jellies have desecrated their own food – they merely grow smaller. If it get’s too bad,…they prepare to propagate for later. Become “dormant” as polyps awaiting again for the best environment to come forth again. There is no longer any “killing” them. They’ve been here over 300 million years when “Nature” provided the environment for them to flourish. {Stromatolites “older”?} Indeed, as if the Korean’s hadn’t understood Japan’s “solution” to the Nomura of cutting them up and for every “Mommy&Daddy” jellie – thousands of polyps begets 10-100 times more jellies. (It’s the best way for them to spawn!)Culinarily Japan experiments all the time to make them more appealing (read: palatable) – but even with these efforts – there’s only so many China, Japan, SE Asia want to eat. [couldn't giver them free to those buying sushi!] Soy, fish sauces, sesame oil, mirin sauce, stir fry, even BBQ sauces, ketchup, mustard, mayo, and stews..etc.. I hadn’t heard about the rice fertilizer before – but more power to them! One solution was hauling them in – drying them – incinerating them. Even then filtering would need be well done since I’m not so certain the stinging cells wouldn’t mock the “marijuana haze” (contact high) authorities get ridding us of that “problem”. However, as with the “Plastic Gyres” – 2 of which the SIZE OF TEXAS! already fouling the Oceans – where there’s a Will – there Won’t be any FUNDING as even the UN would merely dissemble over it until a nuke plant actually EXPLODES! And even at that would have to kill a certain amount of people and despoil enough land/air. The race is on to see who can get at all the fish Earth has first! Jellyfish(old) vs. Man(newbie). Good reporting – let’s see what occurs!

  3. What makes you think there is a “jellyfish problem” or that “the explosion of jellyfish across the Globe has been exponential”? What science supports these notions? … Yup none.

    In fact, the most recent and most comprehensive analyses by Condon et al found, well, there is no jellyfish explosion: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/12/26/1210920110

    Also see: http://theseamonster.net/2012/02/is-the-jellyfish-joyride-almost-over/

    Yet another ocean enviro myth, analogous to the “garbage” island, debunked. DSN is often the first to reveal such baloney. It is sad to see you perpetrating it.

    • John, what science supports worldwide jelly blooms as a myth? I’d say weak evidence at best, extrapolated from studies not designed with the intent of understanding jellyfish blooms. You really can’t say because we haven’t performed the necessary historical monitoring in order to answer the question: are jellyfish blooms increasing worldwide? I’ll counter your NCEAS report with Gibbons and Richardson 2013….
      http://plankt.oxfordjournals.org/content/35/5/929.short (full text free)

    • Garbage island isn’t real? I could swear I’ve seen pictures. And the idea of ocean gyres funneling garbage makes sense. What evidence do you have?

    • 5 Gyres Institute has all the information in multiple scientific studies. Yes, by REAL Ph.D’s too! Enjoy!

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  5. In answer to (1): Better a dead rotting jellyfish that something will scavenge than a living and reproducing one. Hopefully some fish will learn to follow the jellyfish murderers around.

    In answer to (2): Better some jellyfish get killed than none. Maybe the intake can be designed jellyfish-tolerant.

    In answer to (3): If disintegrating itself into clones was the smart way to have lots of descendants, evolution would have made jellyfish do that. But in fact they only do it when they run out of other options. “All the dead biomass” is jellyfish, right? So if a fraction of it gets turned back into jellyfish we’re still well ahead.

    The introduction seems to be saying that because “they’re causing problems because we’ve caused problems,” therefore “fixing the solution requires innovating thinking.” I don’t follow this, if that’s what was intended. In fact, it’s hard to identify why “they’re causing problems because we’ve caused problems,” is relevant at all to whether this is a good solution.

    I don’t think these criticisms are strong arguments against the project.

    • For the first two points I’m going to give others a chance to join the discussion before I reply. Statements like ‘evolution would or wouldn’t have’ don’t make sense. ‘Evolution would have given people wings if it helped them survive’ is the same kind of statement that you make above. Evolution is constrained in a variety of ways. Jellyfish being chopped up and reproducing, and humans having artificial wings, may both increase the number of offspring, independent of humans being able to grow wings or jellyfish being able to chop themselves up.

      Interesting point re: we caused problems so they are causing problems. My goal was to point out that jellies don’t come out of the blue, and that human-related damage and/or change in marine environments plays a role in many difficult cases. These types of impacts are often harmful to animal populations in general. Species that do well in these environments and cause problems thus require innovative management, because what works for most animals (shredding them) might not work for these special cases. This is good writing feedback though- thanks!

      • David,

        1) what is left to scavenge the dead jellyfish is a better question… It really gets down to the basic problem here, how much more can we afford to remove from the oceans? What comes after we’ve found a way to kill off the jellyfish? Do we naively expect fish populations to restock just because we’ve eliminated jellyfish populations? I’d venture a guess that it would just further destabilize the system via decreased biodiversity… giving us something far worse: dead zone? HABs? I think this is already occurring in some areas.

        2) good luck designing a jellyfish tolerant intake screen, it would likely require deepening the the pipeline making your seawater intake system cost ineffective. Power companies have been working on this problem for a long time, primarily dealing with fish impingement… Took long enough just to figure out a good system to keep fish out. Finally, you dodged the initial problem which are the ‘massive’ species of jellies… Watch the video again and you’ll see the prop is stopped several times by the moon jellies, those weak robots would pretty much hang up on their first Nomura’s jellyfish or any other massive blob they can’t hack in half with one revolution. And what about the smaller species that can’t be hacked up? They still clog screens too.

        3) your comment illustrates your lack of understanding of jellyfish biology(another major issue and why this silly project got as far as it did or with the publicity it received, who knows if this was the original intent of the project?)…as there do appear to be species adapted to melt down when they spread their planulae larvae or at the end of their season. You also missed the message in point #3: artificial fertilization… Go around chopping up jellies and your are likely to create polyp colonies nearby, especially on man made objects. That is… if the larvae can flourish in that environment, perhaps the adult jellies were transported to the afflicted area by an irregular current/wind/phenomena and if that is the case then the robots are just a huge waste of time as they do not tackle the problem of the existing polyp colonies living elsewhere which will just produce more jellies.

        As you can see this whole effort ends up as a battle against too many unknown variables… we would be far better off investigating why, when and where jellyfish blooms occur rather than trying to destroy or remove them and following the same destructive path we always do. Shark ate my baby, lets go kill a bunch of them. Dog bites someone, kill it. Knee jerk reactions haven’t been responsible for major progressions in science or for mankind.

    • I will echo Wyatt– chopping up jellies doesn’t “clone” them– the medusa don’t clone themselves. The medusa release MANY sperm/eggs into the water, which then fuse in *sexual reproduction* to make polyps, which then *clone* into more jellies.

      So by chopping up ONE jelly (or really two: one male one female) you run the risk of producing *hundreds* of polyps (via sexual reproduction), which could then produce *thousands* of baby medusae (via cloning). Now imagine chopping up a whole bloom of jellies…

      A “fraction” does not get turned into more jellies, but rather RR Helm is warning that we will see an exponential *increase* in jellies, confounding rather than solving the problem.

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