Thursday, 30 June 2011

Nature wins again... Plankton 1: Nuclear Power 0

Occasionally, just occasionally, this nature boy blog has the chance to be reasonably topical.  I have a blog post in preparation about a wonderful coastal walk we did last week in East Lothian, from which I have extracted one small element to post early. One thing we noticed was that the high tide line of every sandy beach along which we walked was thick with stranded dead or dying jellyfish. They were mostly moon jellies, the very common jellyfish Aurelia aurita. It typically looks like this when stranded:

Stranded Aurelia aurita (moon jellyfish), Gullane beach, 26 June2011

Huge shoals or swarms of these jellyfish are very common in our coastal waters in some summers and mass strandings of this species or other jellyfish species are not uncommon.

Here are a couple of photos of stranded jellyfish en masse at Gullane beach in East Lothian last Sunday (26th June):

Like other jellyfish, this species does have a fringe of stinging tentacles but, in this species, they are not capable of delivering a sting to humans. When the wind is blowing onshore for long enough, these moon jellies, which are very poor swimmers in a current and are thus effectively a part of the zooplankton (albeit very large zooplankton), are forced into the shore and dropped by the falling tide. So what, I hear you ask?

Well, you might have picked up the news today (BBC, Reuters, all the main newspaper websites) that Torness Nuclear Power Station, about 15 miles along the coast from where we were walking, had to shut down both of its Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors on Tuesday afternoon as a swarm of moon jellyfish was clogging the filters of the cooling system's seawater intakes.

According to the BBC's website coverage, the filters: "are designed to prevent seaweed and marine animals entering the cooling system. If these screens become clogged, the reactors are shut down to comply with safety procedures." The Beeb also reported that the "East Lothian plant's operator, EDF Energy, said the shutdown was a precautionary measure and there was never any danger to the public."

It was not a radiological incident... Phew - no need for "Marine Plankton generated this generation-spanning nuclear contamination says nuclear generator" headlines...

But this mass plankton invasion has probably closed one of Scotland's few remaining operational nuclear power stations for a week! Like I said, Plankton 1: Nuclear Power 0...

Incidentally, the BBC coverage also reported, somewhat stupidly, "It is not known why there are so many jellyfish in the area". Duh, it's summer (recent weather notwithstanding) and jellyfish swarms often happen on the East Lothian coast in summer. My Dad recorded numerous incidents over more than 20 years of working on that coastline. And I have no doubt that EDF know that it is a likely occurrence in summer and hence have their contingency shutdown plans. Best not let the obvious facts get in the way of a good mystery for the news though...

Incidentally, my wee brother also picked up on the mass strandings during one of his coast rides on his fabulous Pugsley sand/snow bike, and posted about them here on his Coastkid blog.

The whole incident put me in mind of a wonderful character, Plankton Boy, created for a one-off cartoon strip in an issue of Chris Donald's Viz comic back in 1990 (lovely Google identified it as Viz Comic No: 40 Dated February / March 1990, but sadly no picture was available online). Plankton Boy was "raised by innumerable tiny sea creatures" and had special superhero powers based around plankton. Maybe one was corralling jellyfish towards cooling water intakes... as my brother said earlier "Nature wins again!"


  1. A friend who works at the gates at Torness said there has been over 300 tons of jelly fish to date netted by 2 hired trawlers which are emptying into skips at the pier and are i presume dumped at the landfill nearby,

    Good job the windfarm that many protest about
    was still churning away up above Torness at crystal Rig on the Lammermuirs so we could still get our blogs out!...

  2. Haha - true enough bro! Thanks for the extra information (and for the title and last line of the blog post)! Cheers, SNB

  3. Mebbe so CK but I wonder how you'd feel if they were being planted on your beloved coastline. As you can tell I'm not a fan of these industrial monsters. I'm just about to put in a planning objection to one at Co'path - even while I'm on holiday in Switzerland!!!

    Nice post SNB!

    How nice - comment verification was 'magicali'

    Seems fair I think.


  4. Aye, they aren't right everywhere Al but the are here to stay in our landscapes for the foreseeable future. Hope you are having a good time - thanks, as ever, for commenting - much appreciated! More EL coast to follow at some point! Cheers, SNB

  5. The actual quote from VIZ 40 is "He has been reared for the past twelve years by the multitude of tiny unicellular marine lifeforms"
    I can send you a scan of the strip if you wish.
    From Sean " I never throw anything out, its in a box somewhere" Kelly


Thanks for taking the time to comment... much appreciated at this end! If you've enjoyed reading this post, why not sign up to follow this blog? I won't even make you wear a robe, cape, costume or anything, unless you insist.