I have both good news and bad news from the reef. First, the good news: the reef looks fairly healthy, with lots of fish of all sizes and coral that looks whole. We have been diving when the coral has been banged up, either by careless divers or by careless boaters or by hurricanes, which take carelessness to a whole different level.
Now, for the bad news: the seas were enswamped in jellyfish.
In some ways, they were beautiful, translucently blue as they floated by. They were HUGE. I've never seen jellyfish this big. They weren't the smaller jellyfish you find in the Chesapeake Bay this time of year. No, these jellyfish were the size of dinner plates, large dinner plates.
After one of our dives, we had to swim through swarms of them to get to the boat. We all got stung. I've never had a jellyfish sting before, but they weren't as bad as I thought they'd be. It wasn't a sharp, searing pain, but instead, the kind of buzzing irritation that I've always thought that stinging nettles would give. We squirted our wounds with vinegar and seemed to be no worse for wear.
Jellyfish are an ominous sign for many reasons. One is that they've never been as numerous as they have been this season. Now that fact could mean that the currents are different, which would not have to be a big deal. But the increase in jellyfish points to a decrease in the health of the oceans. Jellyfish thrive in warmer waters than most creatures like, and the ocean temperatures have been breaking all records here. You may recall that two years ago when I was diving/snorkeling, the temperature at Molasses Reef broke the previous record when it climbed to 91 degrees (I wrote about the implications here and here). Since then, those temps have become a new normal.
Jellyfish also thrive in waters that are more acidic, and we know that the seas are becoming more acidic. This fact means that we'll have less sea life: to appreciate, to do their job in our interconnected world, to eat.
We can spend some time arguing about what's causing these things, but we know that warmer planet temps are the likely cause. I've become convinced that we can't change global warming, at least not within the next few generations. We've waited too long while the problem has accelerated far more quickly than scientists believed possible.
I have no doubt that humans will adapt, unless we're part of the great Holocene Extinction currently underway. As one commentator said during an NPR show on global warming, at some point the planet will cool and people who have never seen the Arctic covered with ice will feel just as panicked when ice retakes the region as we're feeling now at the prospect of the Arctic with less ice.
What to do in the meantime? I should dive more often, while there are still reefs and undersea vistas to enjoy.
And for you culinarians out there, start developing your jellyfish recipes--I predict abundant harvests for decades to come!