Monday, July 20, 2009

Japanese fishermen brace for giant jellyfish

July 19, 2009 -- Updated 2108 GMT (0508 HKT)

(CNN) -- Giant jellyfish descend on the Sea of Japan, causing untold devastation to coastal villages and leaving a trail of destruction and human misery behind.

A diver attaches a sensor to a Nomura's jellyfish off the coast of northern Japan in October 2005.

A diver attaches a sensor to a Nomura's jellyfish off the coast of northern Japan in October 2005.

Sounds like a great sci-fi flick. But it's not.

It's real and a nightmare for Japanese fishermen.

The massive sea creatures, called Nomura's jellyfish, can grow 6 feet (1.83 meters) in diameter and weigh more than 450 pounds (204 kilos). Scientists think they originate in the Yellow Sea and in Chinese waters. For the third year since 2005, ocean currents are transporting them into the Sea of Japan.

Monty Williams, a marine biologist at Alabama's Dauphin Island Sea Lab, said the jellyfish grow to an enormous size as they are transported by ocean currents. He said they stay together in packs and as they drift northward, they get caught in fishermen's nets.

The giant jellyfish are one of about 200 species of coastal jellyfish or large jellyfish that exist around the world. But Nomura's stands out because of its enormous size.

"The sheer size of them, individually, makes them fairly spectacular," Williams said.

Spectacular, perhaps, to scientists, but perilous to villagers along the Japanese coast who have seen the destructive habits of these colossal creatures in the past. They had giant-jellyfish invasions in 2005 and 2007, and because they've recently been spotted in the Sea of Japan, they're bracing for another, potentially harmful wave this summer.

The jellyfish destroy fishermen's nets, getting trapped in them, tearing holes and ruining catches.

Fishermen often use expensive mazelike nets that stretch for hundreds of kilometers. When swarms of giant jellyfish tear them, the result is devastating.

"Communities of fishermen and these fishing villages own these nets," Williams said. "When these nets get wiped out, it actually has this economic devastation for an entire community."

The good news is that previous attacks have prompted Japan to put in place a warning system for fishermen. While they still risk losing a big catch, they can, at least, save their pricey nets from the invasion of the giant jellyfish.

It's not clear why waves of Nomura's jellyfish have made it to the Sea of Japan in recent years. Some have speculated that overfishing, pollution or rising ocean temperatures may have depleted the kinds of fish that prey on Nomura's jellyfish in the polyp stage. However, no one is certain, Williams said.

Asean Meets to Strengthen Ties as U.S., China Vie for Influence

By Daniel Ten Kate

July 20 (Bloomberg) -- Southeast Asian foreign ministers met to strengthen ties before a broader gathering this week to discuss security threats in the region with the world’s fastest- growing major economies.

“Effective action must replace extended deliberation,” Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in an opening address in Phuket, Thailand, where the meetings are being held. “We must show to the world that Asean is ready to meet any challenge and is well prepared to act decisively.”

Top diplomats from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations are meeting this week to further their goal of forming a European Union-style economic alliance. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will join them in two days for the Asean Regional Forum, where 27 nations representing half the world’s population will discuss security issues such as North Korea’s nuclear program, border disputes and terrorism.

The U.S. and China are competing for influence in a resources-rich region that contains sea lanes vital for carrying oil from the Middle East to China and northeast Asia. The adoption of a charter last year has fortified Asean’s structure even as individual members struggle with recession, political upheaval and terrorism.

Wide economic disparity among the countries has made it difficult to leverage the group’s market of 575 million people in vying for investments with China and India, the world’s fastest growing major economies. Abhisit said the bloc should “continue to nurture a culture of concerted action” in order “to reinforce Asean’s centrality.”

Swine Flu, Currencies

Abhisit called for cooperation in making vaccines for swine flu and lauded the group’s completion in May of a $120 billion foreign-currency reserve pool to help revive investor confidence. The pool, formed with China, Japan and South Korea, widens access to foreign-exchange reserves and allows Asean countries to defend their currencies.

Foreign direct investment into Asean fell 13 percent last year to $60.1 billion, according to the group’s official statistics. China attracted a record $92.4 billion last year, excluding the financial sector, and has since seen overseas investments decline each month this year as companies pare spending to weather the global financial crisis.

Export-dependent countries like Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are all facing recession as the global slump crimps demand for electronics, cars and computer chips. Indonesia, which has avoided recession because of a stronger domestic economy, suffered a blow last week when suicide bombers killed nine and wounded 53 in attacks at two U.S.-run luxury hotels.

Purchasing Power Disparities

Southeast Asia’s four largest economies -- Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore -- account for almost 80 percent of all foreign investment into Asean. The purchasing power of the group’s four richest countries was 10 times greater than the other members last year, according to statistics on the bloc’s Web site.

“We should begin to think about what type of community we want to see,” Abhisit said. “In a region as diverse as Southeast Asia, I am sure our ideas will be varied but I hope as we get to the year 2015, our ideas will converge.”

Internal political fights in the 10-member bloc have disrupted the region’s efforts to integrate and stymied progress on a human rights body. An April summit of Asian leaders in Pattaya, Thailand, was canceled midway through after anti- government protesters who wanted Abhisit to resign stormed the meeting venue. Thailand has beefed up security this week.

Human Rights Body

Asean foreign ministers today hope to complete the details of a human rights body that has no mandate to investigate country-specific issues, according to Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya. The commission reflects a “maximum consensus” among member states and its powers will be reviewed every five years, he said.

Since its founding in 1967, Asean made decisions mainly by consensus, refusing to comment on affairs of individual members. Two years ago the bloc’s leaders signed a charter, the group’s first legally binding document.

Governments found to be in violation of its rules will be referred to Asean leaders to come up with a consensus on action. The group rejected proposals to add voting, expulsion or sanctions on its members.

Asean includes Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. Thailand holds the rotating chairmanship until December.

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Cha-am, Thailand at;

Last Updated: July 19, 2009 23:54 EDT