Why Korea's jellyfish-shredding robot might be a bad idea

Jellyfish are tough, and they're causing problems. But ripping them apart the way the Jellyfish Elimination Robotic Swarm does might actually lead to more of them.

On Monday, scientists revealed that the jellyfish is the ocean's most efficient swimmer. In particular, the moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) spends less energy to travel a given distance than any other swimming animal. Earlier this month, those same jellies shut down a nuclear reactor in Sweden, and jellyfish have cost South Korean marine industries $300 million in one year.

Jellyfish are tough, they're killing swimmers and outcompeting diminishing fish populations, and they're booming in our warming seas.

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have built a machine with one goal: hunting down and slaughtering as many jellyfish as it can find, Wired UK reports.

Its autonomous robots travels in swarms and use a cameras and GPS systems to navigate. When a swarm of jellyfish is detected, they're encircled with a net then slowly sucked through a whirring propeller that tears them into shreds. Each swarm travels at around 11km/h and can turn 900kg of jellyfish into ribbons every hour.

Here's a video of the Jellyfish Elimination Robotic Swarm, or JEROS (warning: I think it's pretty graphic).

In theory, using robots to round up jellyfish in nets and shred thousands per hour is one of the few ways to eliminate these otherwise virtually unstoppable beasts, Quartz reports. But some only become stronger after being attacked. According to jellyfish biologist Rebecca Helm in Deepsea News, this is not going to be an effective long-term solution:

  1. All that dead jelly will continue to float around, rotting. If they wash onto beaches through net barriers, disembodied tentacles will sting tourists. And since the jelly substance itself is sticky, dead animals will still clog the intake screens.
  2. This won't work for tough species: really sturdy animals will just get stuck in the intake and stay there, halting the whole system.
  3. When you cut open some jellies, you get artificial fertilization -- that's how aquarists get eggs and sperm from species that are difficult to spawn. All those embryos will metamorphose into polyps... which can live for years and clone themselves.

Instead, she favors farming with them: humanely harvest whole jellies, remove the salt, and literally turn them to mulch -- which can be mixed into soil and used to fertilize rice fields.

Image: Aurelia sp. by J. Fang

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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