[Forskalia edwardsii - the Forskalia edwardsii siphonophore colony as reported from Għar Lapsi on 31 March 2021. Photo by Miranda Bowman]
The persistently calm weather experienced during the last week of March ensured that a deluge of reports was submitted to the Spot the Jellyfish citizen science campaign over the Easter recess, shedding light on the mesmerising gelatinous biodiversity within Maltese waters.
The plethora of gelatinous species which were reported to the Spot the Jellyfish campaign included a diverse array of siphonophore colonies, including the Portuguese man o’ war (Physalia physalis), the barbed-wire jellyfish (Apolemia uvaria), the giant siphonophore (Praya dubia) and Forskalia edwardsii, as well as a number of ctenophore/comb jelly species and the crystal or multi-ribbed jellyfish (Aequorea forskalea). The latter species, which was first recorded from Maltese waters through the Spot the Jellyfish campaign in 2010, occurs only sporadically within Maltese waters, appearing for brief pulses during spring months in particular years only, being one of the largest known hydromedusae, reaching a maximum bell diameter of 15cm. Earlier during the month of March, reports were also submitted of the annual mauve stinger (Pelagia noctiluca) mass spawning event, which occurred somewhat later than the corresponding 2020 event, which occurred during the month of January. Most of the species reported during the Easter recess are featured within the MED-JELLYFISH project jellyfish identification manual, which is available, both in English and in Maltese, for online consultation through the Spot the Jellyfish website, along with a sting treatment booklet and a Q&A factsheet on jellyfish.
[Crystal jellyfish - the crystal or multi-ribbed jellyfish (Aequorea forskalea) as reported from Ċirkewwa on 27 March 2021 . Photo by Patrick Schembri]
The Spot the Jellyfish initiative, which is coordinated by Prof. Alan Deidun, with the support of Dr Adam Gauci and Mr Johann Galdies, within the Physical Oceanography Research Group of the Department of Geosciences of the Faculty of Science, kicked off in June 2010, having been conceived by Prof. Aldo Drago, documenting several thousand validated citizen science reports for at least 40 species of gelatinous plankton since then, including almost ten new records for Maltese waters.
The initiative is supported financially by the International Ocean Institute (IOI), the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA), Nature Trust, Friends of the Earth, SharkLab and the Ekoskola and the Blue Flag Malta programmes. The initiative follows a citizen science approach and relies on the collaboration of the public, sea farers, divers, and especially youngsters – through their teachers and parents – who are encouraged to assist in recording the presence and location of different jellyfish through the use of a reporting leaflet. The leaflet is being widely distributed, and can be downloaded from this website, which also contains snippets of information and anecdotes about different jellyfish species. With the support of MTA, large posters have also been put up on boards at major bays.
Reporting is done by simply matching the sighted jellyfish with a simple visual identification guide, giving the date and time of the sighting, and indicating the number of individuals seen. Sightings can be reported online, through an e-mail or by contacting Prof. Alan Deidun. The initiative received international recognition for its innovative and participatory approach (see this report).
[Physalia physalis - the dreaded Portuguese man o'war (Physalia physalis) shiphonopre colony as reported from the south coast of Malta on 2 April 2021. Photo by Ruth Zerafa]