Georgia’s shores pile up with cannonball jellyfish on Tybee Island
While walking along the beach at Tybee Island in Georgia on Friday after work, Jodi Moody saw a few jellyfish in the surf. Then she rounded the northern end of the island. A few have turned into “a jellyfish jamboree”.
Thousands of cannonball jellyfish had stranded, covering an area several meters wide all the way down the beach.
“It was a little intimidating, honestly, because I’ve never seen that,” Moody said on Monday. And I’ve been walking at the beach quite often for years now, and I haven’t seen that. “
She posted her photos on Facebook and elicited hundreds of reactions.
Washing them was not as unusual as the amount of them, said Shawn Gillen, director of the city of Tybee Island.
“It happens every year, maybe not as concentrated in one area as this,” he said.
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Cannonball jellyfish cannot swim. Instead, they go where the winds and currents take them. A strong easterly wind pushed the jellyfish ashore on Friday, not only on Tybee but also other beaches in Georgia, said Tyler Jones, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
“It’s just a regular event,” Jones said. “It’s not like a sign of the apocalypse or anything.”
Cannonballs are the most important jellyfish species in the Southeast, according to the Georgia MNR website. During summer and fall, they represent more than 16% of the biomass on the coast.
“They mainly eat zooplankton and red drum larvae,” the website notes. “When disturbed or threatened, the cannonball jellyfish secrete poisonous mucus that will harm small fish and drive away most predators.”
While generally considered non-pungent and harmless to bathers, Tybee Island Public Works Director Danny Carpenter advises people to avoid handling them.
“If you’re allergic, the sting (of the mucus) can be severe,” he says.
Sea turtles eat cannonballs and so do some people. In fact, Cannonball jellyfish are Georgia’s second largest fishery by weight, Tyler said. Using shrimp trawlers, fishermen collect huge quantities of cannonballs. They are processed in Darien and then exported, mainly to Asian markets where dried jellyfish are prized for their texture.
On Monday, at the north end of Tybee, the scent of stranded jellyfish announced their presence as they decomposed. But Tybee has no plans to remove them.
“They wash on the beach and wash up there and become food for birds and crabs,” said Gillen. “And then the next tide will wash them away or they’ll be buried in the sand. We just let nature take its course.”
Mary Landers is the environment and health reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact her at 912-655-8295. Twitter: @MaryLandersSMN