Source: National Geographic
Palau’s iconic dive site, Jellyfish Lake, has been severely hit by drought, and scientists are warning that the long-term survival of its famed inhabitants might be at risk. While an estimated eight million jellyfish are normally found in the lake, back in March, the Coral Reef Research Foundation, which is based in California and Palau, put the population of jellies in the lake at just 600,000. In recent weeks, various tour companies have cancelled operations because of the low numbers of adult jellyfish spotted by visiting tourists.
Koror State Governor Yositaka Adachi is blaming the current El Niño phenomenon, which he claims is responsible for the lowest rainfall in the area in 65 years, and the Coral Reef Research Foundation says the lack of rain has made the lake the saltiest its ever been. Scientists, for their part, remain noncommittal about what exactly is causing the jellyfish to disappear.
“It’s difficult to tease out what is happening in the lake,” says David Gruber, a marine biologist at Baruch College, City University of New York and the American Museum of Natural History. “Is it natural fluctuation or climate change? This highlights why we need long-term monitoring of places, so we can understand these systems more.”
There is optimism that the jellyfish may ride out the dry spell and bounce back once normal conditions return, like they did when a similar population crash happened in the 1990s—probably also caused by El Niño. That’s because the jellies spend the early phase of their life cycle attached to the bottom of the lake as polyps. It is this new generation that scientists hope will eventually produce millions of adult jellies delighting snorkelers once again.
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