Jellyfish season has hit Israel’s shores again, with just a scattered few of the gelatinous creatures reaching the Mediterranean sands but many more causing a dreaded “stinging water” pain as their stray fibers float about, oceanography researchers have reported.

“The swarm is rather dispersed this summer, with few – but occasionally large – individuals reaching the shore,” Dr. Bella Galil, of Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“However, the presence of the swarm offshore causes the ‘stinging water’ sensation caused by detached filaments bearing the stinging cells.”

Galil and her colleagues at IOLR first reported the presence of “a large swarm of Erythraean alien nomadic jellyfish” called the Rhopilema nomadica – the species that inhabits Israeli waters every summer – along the Mediterranean coast from Ashkelon to Acre, on July 5.

Although the Rhopilema nomadica’s distance from the shore and its population density differs along different sections of the coastline, the swarms have generally been remaining at least 100 meters from the beach, with only sporadic individuals swept ashore thus far. Due to the population’s proximity, however, there is a high likelihood of stings, IOLR warned.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the website Meduzot.co.il – run by a group of maritime researchers at the University of Haifa – also reported a sizable presence of jellyfish, noting that the creatures may be present within a distance of 200 meters from the Mediterranean shore, making activities like walking on the beach, scuba diving and swimming risky ones in terms of contacting jellyfish.

The website also allows people to report sightings of jellyfish, descriptions of the creatures as well as their locations in real-time postings.

Despite the presence of jellyfish, Galil described the situation as “so far so good,” stressing that there has been no increase in number or extent of the creatures in comparison to last year, despite many sensationalist predictions.

Another gelatinous species called the ctenophore Mnemiopsis – commonly known as the wart comb jelly or the sea walnut – may have come to Israeli waters through ballast water from ships, Galil explained.

In order to provide balance, large ships take in what is known as ballast water at their port of departure and then discharge the water at their destination, thereby releasing any organisms that were present in the water supply.

“Ctenophores and jellyfish are recognized as disruptive for coastal installations worldwide,” Galil said.

Arik Dayan, CEO of the Israeli water filtration firm Amiad Water Systems, told the Post on Tuesday that his company has heavily invested in developing filtration mechanisms that will keep gelatinous creatures and many other potentially invasive plants, animals and microorganisms out of ballast water.

For 10 years already, he explained, the International Maritime Organization along with the United States Coast Guard have been developing legislation on such environmental protection for ships – legislation that Dayan said he believes will receive the necessary global approvals soon.

At any given time, Dayan explained, there are about 50,000 ships running through the world’s ports, taking ballast water from one place to another regardless of the potentially polluting nature of this act.

For example, the Great Lakes have incurred damage from invasive zebra mussels, brought in by ballast water, he stressed.

In anticipation of the legislation that will mandate regulation of such water, “developed countries are already building ships with equipment that filters the water and with a device for disinfection,” Dayan said.

Amiad is running pilot programs and working with many of the approximately 25 to 30 integrators that will work to apply the various filtration systems to the world’s 50,000 ships, he explained. By 2017, Dayan said he expects this market to be worth some $500 million-$700m.

“We need to work in freshwater, in seawater, in brackish water,” Dayan said. “It’s a big challenge and I believe that at first we’ll have competition – big competition – but it’s a big market.”

Meanwhile, on Monday a five-year-old girl was rushed to Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera after suffering serious burns on her limbs and her neck from a jellyfish sting.

The child, Shahar Meron of the Matan settlement, was swimming at the Dor Beach when she was stung by a jellyfish.

“She swelled up incredibly badly,” said her mother, Adi.

She was treated and hospitalized, but now her condition is good.

“Every year we come here for a week,” said her mother. “We enjoy it even when there are jellyfish. There usually aren’t many. But this time, unfortunately, one attacked Shahar, skipping us who were with her, and the damage was serious.

We immediately left the water, rinsed her skin, applied vinegar and put on some ointment to reduce the pain.”

Thirty minutes later, the parents saw that her right hand had turned blue and started to blow up. When she began to be apathetic, they rushed her to the hospital’s pediatric emergency room, where she was examined and given anti-allergy drugs and pain relievers.

She was hospitalized because of the edema that caused her hand to swell. The skin-burns from the jellyfish toxin on her limbs and neck were rated second degree. She is now feeling better and due to be discharged in a few days.

Dr. Iyas Kassem, deputy head of Hillel Yaffe’s pediatrics department, said that it was important to remember to rinse the affected skin with seawater, vinegar or lemon juice and not drinking water, as these were acidic and reduced the pain. In addition, painkillers can be given.

“It was important for her to reach the hospital because of the swelling that developed – a serious allergic reaction to the stings,” he added.

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