The Great British Jellywatch Weekend!

This weekend people up and down the country will be taking part in the first ever ‘Great British Jellywatch Weekend’ in an attempt to learn more about the jellyfish surrounding our coastlines.

The Great British Jellywatch Weekend will give us a snapshot of jellyfish populations in the UK

After coming across a human-sized jellyfish whilst diving off the Cornish coast earlier this year, naturalist and broadcaster Lizzie Daly realised there is a lot we still don’t know about the creatures in our own waters. So after teaming up with Swansea University and the Marine Conservation Society her desire to learn more evolved into a new citizen science project, the Great British Jellywatch Weekend. The event, which encourages members of the public to record sightings of jellies across the country, will take place this bank holiday weekend for the very first time. The hope is that using citizen science to record data across the UK will give us a snapshot of jellyfish populations that can be used to answer some big questions about the gelatinous creatures.

A close encounter

In early July Lizzie Daly and underwater cameraman Dan Abbott were filming in the shallow waters surrounding Falmouth for a Marine Conservation Society (MCS) project highlighting the diversity of British marine life. There they came face to face with one of the largest creatures in UK waters, the barrel jellyfish. The invertebrate weighing around 35kg, with the body length of a full grown man, was passively floating alongside them when the pair first noticed it. They followed the gentle giant for some time filming it as it was carried along by the currents. In the next few days a picture of Lizzie alongside the barrel went viral on social media and news platforms. People across the country were left amazed at the size of the jellyfish found just off a popular public beach.

Lizzie Daly alongside the Barrel Jellyfish in Falmouth, Cornwall (Photo by Dan Abbott)

The pair described the encounter and subsequent widespread interest as a ‘humbling’ experience. But her encounter with the barrel jellyfish left Lizzie with more questions than answers about jellies in the UK. Such as how many barrel jellyfish do we have in the UK? And what dictates their, and other specie’s, movements around our shorelines? So she turned to jellyfish expert Dr Nick Fleming from Swansea University for help. Dr Fleming has studied jellyfish around the UK and Ireland for the last 10 years using public sightings as a big part of his research. His dream was to start a largescale annual survey of jellyfish across the country which could help answer some of those questions Lizzie had. So with help from the MCS, with whom Lizzie is an ambassador, that dream has been made a reality and become the Great British Jellywatch Weekend (GBJW).

Why is it important?

Despite being common and relatively easy to study there are still lots of things we don’t know about jellyfish, especially in the UK. The aim of the GBJW is to collate lots of public sightings of jellies across the country over a single weekend to create an accurate snapshot of numbers and distribution of different species. This will be the first of many annual snapshots that will eventually produce a long-term dataset that will allow researchers at Swansea University to tell how populations and distribution change over time. This will help them see what factors effect jellyfish health and movement and see if we are negatively impacting on them in any way. It is also a way of measuring how healthy our oceans are in the UK as jellyfish are excellent indicators of productivity in ocean systems. The reason it has been hard to accurately assess these things in the past is that collecting enough data is very time consuming. Therefore the potential to collect lots of data in the GBJW by lots of people across the country all at once is very valuable to the researchers.

Taking part (what, when and where)

The GBJW works like any other citizen science project. People go out and collect their own data and send it back to organizers who then collate everybody’s findings into a single dataset. But like any scientific project the more data that is collected the more accurate and reliable the results are. That is why it is really important to get as many people participating as possible. Events like this do grow in numbers over time as more people find out about it, such as the MCS’s Great British Beach Clean. But to get it off the ground and make it worthwhile it is still vital to get as many people participating in the first event as possible. The inaugural GBJW will take place this coming bank holiday weekend between 24-26th August 2019. So if you are heading to the seaside for your holidays, or just fancy a trip to the beach, you can help out too.

A jellyfish wash-up on a beach in Cornwall

All you have to do is head down to the nearest beach, walk along the shoreline and have a look for some jellies. You don’t have to get wet or go for a swim as beached jellyfish, or wash-ups, provide an excellent estimate of how big the populations are in the water. When you have found one you simply take a picture and send it to the MCS via an online form on their website. Alternatively if you are lucky enough to be on a boat or just enjoying the harbour and you spot a jelly in the water you can also snap a shot. You can then also share your pictures on social media by using #GBjellywatch. It’s really easy and fun for the whole family. Plus using the MCS’s jellyfish guide you can even use you pictures to find out which species you’ve found. But don’t get disheartened if you can’t find any. It’s still important to submit your results even if you have nothing to show off because knowing where jellyfish aren’t is just as important as knowing where they are. For more details on how to get involved visit the website here.

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