Curse of the Jellyfish

I was pondering the mysteries of life last night. Laying in bed in the darkness, I was just thinking in free form as I waited to fall asleep. It suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t like jellyfish, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what part they played in the ocean. What they eat is eaten by lots of other sea creatures, so if all of the jellyfish were suddenly plucked from the sea and piled on an island  the only environmental impact would be a large area of land that no one wanted to visit for a while. It would smell bad and be sticky to walk in.

I think the reason I was thinking about jellyfish is because I saw a program on the television about how some areas off the coast of Japan was being overrun by these slimy blobs. They were driving away the fish and fouling fisherman’s nets and screwing up water intakes for various industries. The large bloom of these creepy things has set off a lot of research, trying to figure out why there are so many of them all of a sudden. In the end, a multi-million dollar study decided that a half degree rise in water temperature was responsible for the sudden increase in population. I think they should have spent the money figuring out how to kill off the excess of these things. Science only goes so far with me, especially when the subject is icky, slimy, smelly jellyfish.

When I was little I was swimming off a California beach near Carmel. I found this gelatinous blob on the beach and scooped it up and dragged it over to where my parents were sitting on a blanket. I say dragged because hanging out behind it were all of these tendril things draping back maybe 12 to 15 feet. Anyway, both my mom and dad got upset the minute they saw me with it and told me to carefully set it down –away from me. They said not to touch it anywhere else than I where already had. I dropped it splattering onto the beach and I asked what it was. My dad said it was a Portuguese Man o’ War and that the long tendrils were stingers. Neither of my folks could believe my luck that I hadn’t been stung, and admonished me against picking things up from the beach. Of course, their next suggestion was to go for a walk and see if we could find things on the beach we might take home as souvenirs. But I had a nightmare that night about a jellyfish grabbing me as I swam and pulling me to the bottom of the sea so it could sting me to death. I’ve never liked jellyfish since then. When cruising later in life out on Long Island Sound, I would make it a point to run over the jellyfish I would see with my boat.

So now I’m wondering why the Japanese don’t just start dragging their nets to pick these things from the sea and getting rid of them. Maybe they would make a good fertilizer or something. Anyway, somewhere during my thoughts I fell asleep and so I quit thinking about the things. I kept having ridiculous ideas about what to do with all of those slimy glops, running the gamut from towing icebergs to Japan to setting loose a fleet of underwater Cuisinarts to seek out and mince that damn things. I hate it when my brain turns out ideas only a Jerry Springer audience could love.

But it actually is a problem and one that should be taken more seriously than my brain seems to want to. I have always loved the oceans; it was a life-long dream to retire next to one, living so I could hear the sound of its waves and smell it in the air. My years on Butler’s Island in Darien, Connecticut pretty much sold me on coastal living. The thing is, most of the imagery of the coast is from my youth, and the coasts are the same but vastly different now. Many of the fishing fleets moored in the inlets and coves have depleted or vanished, their fishery now barren and unable to support industry. Cargo ships have increased in size to floating counties, each one able to carry the output of hundreds of factories –assuming we still had any of those. My view of the oceans is idyllic and unblemished by the realities inflicted by time and human intervention.

I used Google Earth one day to go focus on my childhood home perched on the rocks by the inlet to Five Mile River and Rowayton. The Tokeneke and Wee Burn beach clubs still existed, but what was nestled between them on Butler’s Island bore no semblance to the images in my memory. The stately colonial homes perched atop the short cliffs were gone, replaced by even larger homes, the dense evergreens and hardwoods eradicated to reveal the obese structures. The place I once lived is no longer there; it was replaced by something that took it over, making it ugly in my eyes.

So maybe that’s what bothers me so much about the jellyfish. They are changing and despoiling what once was. A blight brought about by the hand of man trying to improve on what was a well working system. Mankind’s contribution being the half degree of warmth that triggered the change of a Japanese fishery into a slimy glut of gelatinous goo. Of course, I see that the changes have also made me resentful, something else I don’t like to see. What was a warm memory has been changed for me; when I think of the sea I think of jellyfish and unappreciated change. My memories suffering a half degree of difference that contaminates my memories, once so faithfully there and calming. The mental happy place I could hide when life was just too callous has suffered deforestation like the pines, oaks, maples and birch of the island. A reminder that there is no escape, life is a one way street, and that signs ahead mark the warning “Road Ends.”