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