Photographers capture thousands of jellyfish swarming Navarre Beach
Thousands of jellyfish gathered in the Gulf of Mexico, creating a wave of light pink in the emerald water.
When Pensacola-based photographer Shane Dye got a message on Facebook on Aug. 23 about a large school of jellyfish on Navarre Beach, he wasted no time to go see it for himself.
He called up another local photographer, Amber Fletcher, who grabbed her drone and headed that way. What they captured was thousands of jellyfish moving together in the Gulf of Mexico creating a wave of light pink in the emerald water.
“It’s incredible,” said Fletcher. “It’s in my top five (experiences). It was mind-blowing and it all happened so fast.”
Dye went out on his paddleboard about 150 feet past the Navarre Beach Pier to capture underwater images of the jellyfish while Fletcher shot photos with her drone. Amazingly, Dye didn’t get stung once. The housing on his camera was the only buffer between him and the jellies.
It wasn’t until after the adrenaline wore off that he realized how dangerous the photo op could be.
“If I were to fall in and get stung, I probably would’ve gone into shock,” said Dye, who owns Deluna Visual.
“I was anxious thinking about it,” Fletcher added.
Dye is no stranger to marine wildlife. He has swam with turtles, manta rays, and smaller schools of jellies. Sometimes, it’s seaweed and trash that he finds out in the water.
After about an hour, the jellyfish had moved on and the water was back to normal. All they had left were the images, which have caught the attention of thousands of people on Facebook and Instagram — including Dr. Alexis Janosik, associate professor in the Department of Biology at the University of West Florida.
Jellyfish move with the tides, although Janosik said jellies do have a sense of migration. And they tend to like warmer temperatures, so it’s typical for them to be more prevalent this time of year. But Tuesday’s sighting was not typical.
“It’s unusual to see that many at once,” she noted. “It’s pretty phenomenal."
The particular jellies caught on camera are the Atlantic Sea Nettles, which are found in the Gulf and around the peninsula. They can “pack a pretty nasty sting,” Janosik said, but they won’t swim after you. If you happen to see any washed up, don’t touch them — they can still sting.
“It may not be ideal, but they’re here and part of the ecosystem,” she said. “They’re food for a lot of organisms like turtles.”
The large number of jellyfish could also be from high amounts of nutrients in the water, which sounds like a good thing but what it actually means is human impact.
“It's more about excess nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, that cause eutrophication, which overloads the ecosystem and causes algae. It’s basically overloading the system,” Janosik said.
The excess nutrients come from agricultural run-off and human waste. It all goes back to climate change.
Appreciating nature is one of the reasons why Dye and Fletcher like to share their photos online. Fletcher runs a page called Explore Pensacola where she shares drone footage taken at the local beaches.
“You don’t always think about it in the moment, but then someone says ‘thanks for showing me how beautiful my home is,’” said Fletcher. “This was just such a wild and incredible thing.”
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