August 10, 2005

Waves of jellyfish invade Spanish beaches

MADRID (Reuters) - Unusually high concentrations of
jellyfish have appeared along Spain's Mediterranean coast this
summer, to the discomfort of thousands of tourists, officials
said on Wednesday.

The Red Cross said its lifeguards had treated almost 11,000
people for stings on beaches so far this season in the
northeastern region of Catalonia alone, twice the number from
the same period last year, when the jellyfish count had already
begun to rise.

Almunecar on the south coast had to cancel an annual
swimming race across the bay last Sunday because of the number
of jellyfish in the water, a town hall spokesman said.

Factors such as drought, heat and over-fishing all
contribute to a rising jellyfish count, said Xavier Pastor,
vice president of the international environmental group Oceana.

Warmer than usual coastal waters encourage the creatures to
venture closer to shore, in search of lower salt concentrations
and nutrients in urban waste water and agricultural run-off.

At the same time the Mediterranean's population of larger
fish and turtles -- which feed on jellyfish -- has declined.

"This year's crisis is not only affecting the
Mediterranean," Pastor said. "In the Azores (Portuguese islands
in the Atlantic) we recently found high concentrations of
Portuguese Man-of-War, which is much more dangerous."