MSU Researchers Look at Jellyfish Infestation in Barnegat Bay

By Lauren Wanko

Most people don’t like getting close to a jellyfish, let alone hold one. But a Montclair State University research team has been handling tens of thousands of them to understand why jellyfish have infested the Barnegat Bay.

“They’re been reports for a century or more but now they’re in really large numbers and what we’re seeing is a larger expansion in the Barnegat Bay as well as the Navesink and Shrewsbury,” said Montclair State University Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences Director Dr. Paul Bologna.

Jellyfish are considered one of the apex or top predators in the Barnegat Bay.

“There are very few things that eat the jelly fish,” said Bologna.

They can also thrive in poor water quality and need little oxygen. Bologna says the newer non-toxic building materials used for bulkheads and floating docks have become an ideal place for jellyfish polyps. A polyp is a life stage of a jellyfish when the adults reproduce they create larvae. The larvae looks for a hard structure– like a dock or shell to adhere to. The larvae then morphs into a polyp which survives the winter. The polyps clone themselves and generate baby jellyfish each spring.

“A single polyp has the potential of generating 4,000 jellyfish following a year. So if we want to control the jellyfish population we really don’t want to control the jellyfish, we want to control the polyp life stage,” said Bologna.

Two MSU professors and a team of students have identified eight sampling regions on the Barnegat Bay along with another eight lagoon sites to understand population biology. Homeowners spot the researchers and the jellyfish up and down the Bay.

“Mostly we hear everyone the phrase take them all! Get ride of them all we don’t want them here,” said Montclair State University Doctoral student Christie Castellano.

The researchers also scan the water for jellyfish. Students net them and cut off the tentacles. They’re interested in what’s inside them, it’s what causes that sting.

“We try to extract all the different chemicals and different proteins that make up them cause they have numerous types of toxins. In many cases new pharmaceuticals can originate out of some of these chemicals that may come about,” said Bologna.

The team insists it’s also important to determine what the jellyfish are eating in order to determine their impact on marine life on the Barnegat Bay. They say there may be some connection to the declining fish and clam populations.

The process is called gut extraction. Researchers use a syringe to extract the gut contents.

“By extracting the gut contains out, we can extract total DNA of the gut and using a technique called next generation sequencing, we can actually figure out who’s DNA is in there. Essentially they eat just about everything that’s in the Bay,” said Montclair State University Assistant Professor of Biology Jack Gaynor.

The researchers collected about 300 hundred jellyfish today– lab material for the next the month.