They can ruin a perfectly nice beach day and are the very definition of spineless, and now jellyfish are drawing international attention with their power plant hijinks.
It’s been a strange few weeks in which five power plants around the world have had to scale back or shut down due to massive swarms of jellies getting sucked into the plants' cooling water intakes. To be clear, this cooling water is used to chill steam, not fuel rods, so there’s no chance of radioactive super jellyfish bursting out of the plant and taking over the world.
Despite a lack of superpowers, regular old jellies are making their presence increasingly known. In late June, the Shimane nuclear plant in western Japan had to scale back its electricity production because jellies were clogging the plant’s cooling water system (a problem that’s been plaguing Japanese plants since 2006). Just a few days later, two nuclear reactors in Scotland shut down for a week due to yet another jellyfish bloom wreaking havoc in the plant’s cooling water intake system. Then just as the Scottish reactors were returning to service, swarms of jellies choked a coal power plant’s cooling system in Hadera, Israel, shutting down the plant. Not to be outdone by their brethren further up the coast, jellyfish then infested another coal plant in Ashkelon, Israel just a couple of days later.
It’s as if there’s bad blood between jellies and the power industry, but in this case power plants are the ones picking the fight. As one Israeli oceanographer explained, "The jellyfish are not ‘attracted' to the water intakes – they are ‘sucked in' – involuntarily." So jellyfish aren’t being jerks any more than the adorable seal that got caught up in the cooling system at an English nuclear power plant, or the diver who was unwittingly sucked into a Los Angeles power plant, not to mention the sea turtles, manatees and billions of fish that have found themselves drawn into power plant intake pipes every year.
Still, the recent global booms in jellyfish population are a cause for concern. Some consider the increasing number of jellies as evidence of the "rise of slime"; the dumbing down of complex ocean food webs into simplistic ecosystems full of microbes, algal blooms and jellyfish. Scientists point to the trifecta of warming ocean temperatures, excess nutrients and overfishing as the main culprit for increasing the number of large jelly swarms. And we're primarily to blame for that terrible threesome. Yes, some of these jelly outbreaks are local and cyclical, but humans are simply adding fuel to the invertebrate fire.
At the very least, we can stop this power plant vs. jellyfish feud by ending the power industry’s love affair with outdated, water-dependent cooling and switching to 21st century technology like dry cooling. But whether they're clogging power plants, sinking fishing vessels, or stinging us at the beach, don’t get mad at jellies. Our use and abuse of air and water resources has been an open invitation for them to spread, thrive and drive us crazy.