Jellyfish jelly press and jelly perception
Since the early 2000’s, invasions and blooms of jellyfish have been increasingly reported in scientific literature as well as in the general media. Despite this increased coverage, the global jellification issue remains unsolved due to the scarcity of extended time series. The aim of this study was to determine to what extent the main messages about jellyfish (increase, causes, threats, solutions, etc.) in the Flemish (Belgian Dutch-language) media correspond with the knowledge and perception of recreational users, tourism-related professionals and local government officials on the Belgian coast. The number of articles in the Flemish media (140) increased from <5 in 2000 to 27 in 2010, with half of them reporting on jellyfish in the Belgian Part of the North Sea. Almost 75 % of these articles reported on the causes (overfishing being mentioned as the main cause) and economic consequences of jellyfish blooms. Articles about the dramatic consequences of stinging, poisonous and non-indigenous species were also common. A questionnaire-based survey carried out on the Belgian coast in summer 2012 indicated that jelly perception is only partly driven by the general media, while personal experience seemed at least equally important as driver. Information on causes, threats, consequences and solutions for problems caused by jellyfish corresponded to a large extent with the answers given by recreational users and tourism-related professionals. Respondents generally agreed that all underlying causes of a potential jellification problem should be addressed and tackled at an international level. With keywords like “pain”, “smell” and “slime” used to describe jellyfish, they have little sympathy from most actors, and most recreational users of beaches and coastal waters are extremely careful with any type of jellyfish, especially when children are involved. Species-specific knowledge (names, ecology, stinging vs. harmless species) presented in the media is not assimilated by most recreational users or local officials, except for divers, who have a very different perception of jellyfish than most recreational users. This lack of knowledge appeared to be a key issue in perception among recreational users. As public perception is a key driver in policy decisions, integrated coastal zone management and measures should provide good and easily understandable information, for example by distributing leaflets and putting up warning signs on the beach. This will result in a better understanding and acceptance of jellyfish as well as generating high-quality data from citizen science programs. Better and more information on jellyfish will thus benefit all the actors and sectors potentially affected by jellification.