CHARLESTOWN, R.I. — A curious congregation of jellyfish has showed up along Rhode Island’s coastline this year, prompting state officials to sound alarms about the threat of their stings.
Atlantic Sea Nettles, a species of jellyfish that can be located in waters as north as Cape Cod down to the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico, are gathering in the Ninigret and Green Hill Ponds, according to a statement posted this week by the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife Outdoor Education.
Division biologists are monitoring the “high abundance” of these jellyfish, and reported that in the past month, their population has increased “to the thousands” as water temperatures have risen.
“While their high abundance in the ponds this summer is not fully understood, their numbers are expected to decline as the summer goes on,” read the statement.
Katie Rodrigue, principal marine biologist for the Rhode Island Division of Environmental Management, said this species is fairly common in Rhode Island waters, but their abundance can be variable from year-to-year.
“Unlike many other species that may die or leave an area when waters get too warm or oxygen becomes low, jellyfish can thrive in these types of environments. Green Hill Pond and portions of Ninigret are very shallow and warm quickly in the summer, which could be why Sea Nettle abundance has risen lately,” Rodrigue told the Globe Wednesday.
She said while conducting a shellfish survey last week in the western basin of Ninigret Pond, officials saw water temperatures around 80 degrees fahrenheit. Rodrigue said with a good supply of food (such as zooplankton, ctenophores, and other jellies), less competition competition, and few predators, this species is able to thrive.
“It’s tough to say if climate change is contributing to changes in their population as not much is understood about their population dynamics,” said Rodrigue.
An Atlantic Sea Nettles’ sting is not fatal, unless a person has a severe allergic reaction, but it can be painful and cause itchy welts. But Rodrigue said the state urges people to use caution while in the water. She said it’s a good idea to cover up by wearing things such as wetsuits, rash guards, waders, or even leggings or pantyhose, and avoid touching the jellyfish.
Here are some tips from the Division on what to do if you get stung by an Atlantic Sea Nettle.
- Using a gloved hand or plastic bag, remove any visible tentacles carefully from your skin.
- Rinse the affected area with vinegar or a commercial spray. If don’t have either available to you, use saltwater. However, do not use freshwater as that can worsen the sting.
- Apply a heat pack or rinse the affected area with hot water to inactivate the venom.
- An ice pack and hydrocortisone cream can then be applied to help with any discomfort from the sing.
- If symptoms worsen, then the Division recommends seeking medical attention.
- Report any sightings to the Division by calling 401-423-1923.