Palawan, Philippines was once a hot tourist spot known for its beautiful beaches. They were once packed with many people but now deserted because of the COVID-19 pandemic allowing nature to flourish along its coastlines.
Thousands of pink jellyfish that have been absent for many years because of human activity are now rising to the surface because they no longer feel threatened in their natural habitat. According to the Daily Mail, experts believe that these creatures stayed closer to the bottom of the sea because of the presence of the tourists.
Dr Sheldon Rey Boco, the co-founder of the Philippine Jellyfish Stings Project, told Manila Bulletin that these 'sea tomato' are probably present in late January or February. Still, due to the wind, current and tidal conditions, the pink jellyfish only seem to appear on March in Palawan.
The factors that may influence the occurrence of medusa and their blooms are the atmosphere, water velocity, current, tide and even geological feature of the coast or any body of water, according to Boco.
He also added that the blooms or populations of jellyfish are not always constant. There are some years that the jellyfish population are high and also years when there are only a few or even almost absent.
Jellyfish certainly are not affected by #COVID19 restrictions. Here is a bloom of #jellyfish medusae of the tomato jelly, Crambione cf. mastigophora in El Nido, S. Philippines
Alimar Amor 23 March 2020 pic.twitter.com/5avr1ptJdy — Sheldon Rey Boco (@SheldonRey) March 28, 2020
Amid the COVID-19 Lockdown
The Philippines Department of Natural Resources (DENR) undersecretary, Benny Antiporda said that although El Nido is teeming with jellies right now, blooms were not exceptional. He told the media outlet, Business Mirror that the presence of pink jellyfish is a yearly occurrence/
He explained that these pink jellyfish that the ocean current brought usually end up in Corong-Corong bay. Furthermore, he also said that because of the quarantine enforced to the island, locals are prevented from harvesting these creatures, which in turn allowed these jellyfish communities to flourish.
But some experts are not convinced that the COVID-19 lockdown is responsible for these blooms. Dr Ryan Baring, a lecturer in Marine Biology at Flinders University, said that the quarantine or lockdown is unlikely to be a sole reason for the bloom. However, it is still difficult to say without further experimental research.
He believes that the absence of tourists in the area has contributed to the more noticeable presence of the current bloom. It's because tourists are not there to disturb them, and so the sea tomatoes rise to the surface of the water.
On regular business days, the Corong-Corong bay of El Nido, Palawan is densely packed with tourists doing recreational fishing and boating by the local fishermen to catch fish and invertebrates, says Boco.
Furthermore, these activities alter water circulation and the distribution of zooplankton food for the jellyfish. This means that it potentially change the distribution of jellyfish medusa.
The need for further investigation and study
There is a need to investigate further whether the presence of tourists and fishers in the area affect the presence of the jellyfish. The absence of field data and formal scientific reports on the animal's behavior and distribution makes it difficult to create conclusions, Boco said.
While blooms look spectacular, they may become a problem for local fishers and other communities. Sometimes, fishing nets get clogged by the jellyfish. In 1999, 50 truckloads of jellyfish were removed at a power plant in Manila after causing a power cut.
The problem is there is only limited data regarding the ecology of jellyfish, especially in Southeast Asia where different species are abundant.