1,600-plus Florida beachgoers stung by jellyfish

 

More than 1,600 people within a 10-mile stretch of central Florida’s Atlantic beaches have been stung in the past week by a distinctive species of jellyfish not indigenous to North America, a rescue official said Tuesday.

Brevard County Ocean Rescue officials said they began flying warning flags at beaches from Cocoa Beach to Cape Canaveral last Tuesday, indicating either a medium or high hazard, along with another flag indicating dangerous marine life.

“From last Wednesday to Friday, we got about 600 reports. Saturday to (Tuesday), we got another thousand,” Chief Jeff Scabarozi said.

Monty Graham, a scientist at Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab, said the jellyfish appear to be what are known as mauve stingers, a species that often blooms in response to small climate cycles like El Niño.

“The interesting thing about these jellyfish is that they’re very sporadic. They occur in heavy numbers, but not every year,” he said.

Graham said the last time he had seen such a widespread outbreak in the United States was more than a decade ago. “They’re much more common in the Mediterranean,” he said. “Probably what we’re seeing is a large population bloom in the Gulf of Mexico transported by the Gulf Stream wrapping around the coast of Florida.”

All weekend long, countless numbers of jellyfish washed up on shores, standing out against the sand due to their characteristic purplish-reddish hue.

Graham said that although mauve stingers are smaller and much less familiar than the Portuguese man o’ war and cannonball jellyfish that often wash up on Florida shores, the ruddy-colored animal can pack a punch.

“While they might be small, they’re actually pretty potent. And unlike the others, these animals actually have stinging cells up on the top of their bells in addition to the stingers on their tentacles, which is uncommon.”

When stung, mauve stinger victims may see a discoloration on their skin where contact was made, Graham said. “These guys will leave actual marks on you sometimes. It may stay with you for quite some time, but over time it will go away.”

The stings cause itching, burning and rashes and can sometimes spur an allergic reaction. Although none of the stings reported in Brevard County was believed to be serious, officials said two people who were stung were taken to hospitals after suffering from respiratory distress. It was unclear whether the distress was directly caused by the stings or came from a pre-existing medical condition.

Most victims were being treated by a vinegar solution stocked at the various lifeguard stations.

Despite the abundance of visible jellyfish in the water, many trying to enjoy the Memorial Day weekend took their chances — and suffered the repercussions.

“We’ve already gone through about 25 gallons of vinegar. Even so, a lot of people didn’t go into the water,” Scabarozi said. “I just want to know when they’re going to leave.”

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Massive stretches of weathered oil spotted in Gulf of Mexico

 

 

Oil was spotted in West Bay just west of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River, seen at top left, by the Gulf of Mexico Friday October 22, 2010.

Just three days after the U.S. Coast Guard admiral in charge of the BP oil spill cleanup declared little recoverable surface oil remained in the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana fishers Friday found miles-long strings of weathered oil floating toward fragile marshes on the Mississippi River delta.

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The discovery, which comes as millions of birds begin moving toward the region in the fall migration, gave ammunition to groups that have insisted the government has overstated clean-up progress, and could force reclosure of key fishing areas only recently reopened.

The oil was sighted in West Bay, which covers approximately 35 square miles of open water between Southwest Pass, the main shipping channel of the river, and Tiger Pass near Venice. Boat captains working the BP clean-up effort said they have been reporting large areas of surface oil off the delta for more than a week but have seen little response from BP or the Coast Guard, which is in charge of the clean-up. The captains said most of their sightings have occurred during stretches of calm weather, similar to what the area has experienced most of this week.

On Friday reports included accounts of strips of the heavily weathered orange oil that became a signature image of the spill during the summer. One captain said some strips were as much as 400 feet wide and a mile long.

The captains did not want to be named for fear of losing their clean-up jobs with BP.

Coast Guard officials Friday said a boat had been dispatched to investigate the sightings, but that a report would not be available until Saturday morning.

However, Times-Picayune photojournalist Matt Hinton confirmed the sightings in an over-flight of West Bay.

Robert Barham, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said if the sightings are confirmed by his agency, the area will be reclosed to fishing until it is confirmed oil-free again.

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Just Tuesday, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft, in charge of the federal response, and his top science adviser, Steve Lehmann, said that little of the 210 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf remained on the surface or even on the Gulf’s floor. Lehmann pointed to extensive tests conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that included taking samples of water from various depths, as well as collections of bottom sediments both far offshore and close to the coast.

Those claims, announced on the six-month anniversary of the spill, brought quick rebuttals from a variety of environmental and fishermen’s groups who insist their members have been reporting sightings of surface oil all along.

LSU environmental sciences professor Ed Overton, who has been involved in oil spill response for 30 years, said he believes both claims could be accurate. The Louisiana sweet crude from the Deepwater Horizon is very light and has almost neutral buoyancy, Overton said, which means that when it picks up any particles from the water column, it will sink to the bottom.

“It’s quite possible that when the weather calms and the water temperatures changes, the oil particles that have spread along the bottom will recoagulate, then float to the surface again and form these large mats.

“I say this is a possibility, because I know that the (Coast Guard) has sent boats out to investigate these reports, but by the time they get to the scenes, the weather has changed and they don’t see any oil.”

“I think the reports are credible, but I also think the incident responders are trying to find the oil, too,” Overton said. “This is unusual, but nothing about this bloody spill has been normal since the beginning.”

Overton said it is important for the state to discover the mechanism that is causing the oil to reappear because even this highly weathered oil poses a serious threat to the coastal ecology.

“If this was tar balls floating around, that would be one thing, but these reports are of mats of weathered oil, and that can cause serious problems if it gets into the marsh,” he said

The reports are a great concern to wildlife officials. The Mississippi delta is a primary wintering ground for hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese, some of which already have begun arriving. The West Bay area leads into several shallower interior bays that attract ducks, geese and myriad species of shore and wading birds each winter.

Earlier this month state wildlife officials were expressing optimism the spill would have minimal impact on most waterfowl visitors because little oil had penetrated the sensitive wintering grounds.