Posted by admin | 12.15.2011 | Marine Science

Moon jelly swarm shuts down power plant

A recent moon jelly invasion in Florida provides further evidence that the smallest and simplest organisms can have impacts much greater than their body size. These small gelatinous animals, belonging to the phylum Cnidaria, showed their true strength when they shut down a nuclear power plant in St. Lucie County last August.

The jelly invasion spanned four days, beginning on August 22. The offshore intake pipes for the power plant began to suck up jellies in unusually high numbers. As the jellies were jetted through the pipes at over 4 mph, their tentacles began to detach. The metal screens designed to remove debris quickly became clogged with the dead and dying carcasses. This would in turn cause the pressure to build in the pumps, and prevent water necessary for cooling.

The detachment of the tentacles had unforeseen consequences for the vertebrate life located in the plant’s canal systems. The tentacles attached to the gills of fish, causing tissue swelling, and eventual death. Teams of divers tried to use a vinegar solution, but were eventually forced to leave as they became repeatedly stung by the cnidocytes, which give the phylum its name. An estimated 75 critically endangered goliath grouper are believed to have died in the event.

Jellies and other cnidarians are not new. There is fossil evidence of them as far back as 580 million years ago. Nor are they particularly complex organisms, with only two main cell layers. Regardless of all of this, their strength in numbers was able to overpower modern human technology. Pretty impressive for something with only a simple nervous system.