Climate change is unlikely to cause many problems for a group of sometimes lethal species of box jellyfish that frequents northern Australian waters, according to new research supported by the Tropical Water Quality Hub.
Professor Kylie Pitt and her team at Griffith University investigated the effect of water conditions expected under both optimistic and extreme climate change scenarios on the health and reproductive capabilities of polyps of the Carukia barnsei jellyfish, which is part of a group of species known as Irukandji jellyfish.
Despite a reduction in reproduction, mobility and metabolic rate under extreme climate scenarios, the polyps were largely unaffected by the conditions expected under optimistic predictions for climate change (in which water temperatures rise to 28 degrees Celsius and pH falls to 7.9).
PhD student, Sheldon Rey Boco, who led the study concluded that ‘our results suggest that C. barnsei polyps are unaffected by the most optimistic climate scenario and may tolerate even extreme climate conditions to some extent.’
Stings from Irukanjdi species including C. barnsei can cause ‘Irukandji syndrome’ which can result in extreme pain and even death. Their notoriety represents a major risk to north Queensland’s important tourism industry, which reports that fear of ‘jellyfish stings are the number two reason that Australian tourists take their dollars overseas’ and that cancelled visits after two stinging deaths in 2002 resulted in losses over $65 million (Condie et al, 2018).
The TWQ Hub has filled multiple knowledge gaps and resulted in the establishment of a Venomous Jellyfish database and new field methods and equipment to help surf lifesavers and other stakeholders better understand and predict where Irukandji-causing jellyfish might appear.