(p. A8) MARINA di GINOSA, Italy — As a small boat loaded with wet suits, lab equipment and empty coolers drifted into the warm turquoise sea, Stefano Piraino looked back at the sunbathers on the beach and explained why none of them set foot in the water.
“They know the jellyfish are here,” said Dr. Piraino, a professor of zoology at the University of Salento.
While tourists throughout Europe seek out Apulia, in Italy’s southeast, for its Baroque whitewashed cities and crystalline seas, swarms of jellyfish are also thronging to its waters.
Climate change is making the waters warmer for longer, allowing the creatures to breed gelatinous generation after gelatinous generation.
The jellyfish population explosion has blossomed for years, but got a special boost since 2015 with the broadening of the Suez Canal, which opened up an aquatic superhighway for invasive species to the Mediterranean.
The jellyfish invasion has now reached the point where there may be little to do but find a way to live with huge numbers of them, say scientists like Dr. Piraino.
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Convinced that climate change and overfishing will force Italians to adapt, as they once did to other foreign intruders, like the tomato, his team has launched the Go Jelly project, which roughly boils down to, if you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em.
The study, which officially gets underway in January, will attempt to show that the enormous and increasing jellyfish biomasses can be the inexhaustible Jell-O of the sea.
While overfishing, warmer seas and pollution may wipe out ocean predators, they are allowing jellyfish to thrive — and reproduction comes easily enough to jellyfish.
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Dr. Piraino has plumbed the mysteries of the creature, more than half-a-billion years old, for its possible uses. Those include the potential to fight tumors, and also using collagen-heavy species as a source for more voluptuous lips.
Then, there is food.
Antonella Leone is a researcher at Italy’s Institute of Sciences of Food Production, and since about two months ago, Dr. Piraino’s wife. At their wedding this summer, the couple celebrated with a tiered cake dripping with confectionary jellyfish.
A leader of the Go Jelly project, she thinks that Italians, with their zeal for locally sourced regional ingredients, might just find a taste for jellyfish.
Others already have. The Japanese serve them sashimi style in strips with soy sauce, and the Chinese have eaten them for a millennium.
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Dr. Piraino cut a piece that he said was full of protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
“It’s great,” he said, as it slipped out of his hand.
The chef marinated a piece in garlic and basil for the grill. He prepared another on a bed of arugula next to a sweet fig to balance out what everyone agreed was an intense saltiness.
At the end of the tasting, there were several untouched specimens on the table. Dr. Leone packed the foodstuff of the globally warmed future into a jellyfish doggy bag.
For the full story, see:
JASON HOROWITZ. “As Jellyfish Swarm the Seas Off Italy, a Fix Emerges: Try Ragu, or Sashimi.” The New York Times (Mon., SEPT. 18, 2017): A8.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 17, 2017, and has the title “Jellyfish Seek Italy’s Warming Seas. Can’t Beat ‘Em? Eat ‘Em.”)