WNC jellyfish biologist campaigns for the high seas



A local biologist who has made waves for her research on jellyfish that reside in freshwater ecosystems, some here in western North Carolina, is part of an international campaign to protect and better understand the marine life in a vast expanse of salt water – most of us will never see.

UNC Asheville, Assistant Professor of Biology, Rebecca Helm, PhD, spends much of her time trying to find and study the tiny freshwater jellyfish that reside in ponds and lakes in West Carolina North.

“Keep an eye out for small nickel-sized, semi-clear, slightly greyish jellyfish moving around,” says Helm. “They look like jellyfish. They have this very stereotypical pulsing movement, and they seem to congregate in certain areas of a pond. And that’s one of the things that we hope to figure out, you know, why are they going to these particular areas? Are they actively moving to these areas, is the pond circulation somehow

moving them – we want to find out.

But lately it’s been jellyfish and other marine life that reside in larger bodies of water that he’s concerned about, especially an area 200 nautical miles offshore – called the high seas.

“One percent of the high seas is fully protected and conserved. And this area represents about half of the surface of our planet and more than 90% of the habitable habitat on earth, ”explains Helm. “And so, we have this incredible wealth of biodiversity that exists on the high seas and that we humans depend on in many ways. And there’s no mechanism in place for the vast majority of animals, including jellyfish, uh, for conservation or protection. And so, we want to see this change.

The United Nations have been working on an agreement to address conservation and sustainability on the high seas, but Helm says they need to do more, including monitoring biodiversity. Along with some of the best scientists in the world, she wrote these thoughts in a letter to the UN, which was published in the Science Journal.

“There is so much we learned about the ocean because we thought it would never be exhausted. And then we realized that it could be. And the moment we realized that we were seeing fishing accidents, we saw the degradation of the ecosystem. So, it was really that kind of dawning awareness that the ocean is not an infinite resource. And now that we know we can move forward with that mindset and do better than before. “

The COVID pandemic has suspended United Nations treaty negotiations on the high seas. The time this western North Carolina jelly researcher and her colleagues are using to educate and recruit the public to join to their campaign to protect a stretch of sea that most of us will never see, but on which we all depend.

I’m Helen Chickering OPI news.

Visit Science Magazine to read the official letter written by Helm and colleagues calling on the United Nations to protect the high seas and learn more about their campaign to protect biodiversity on the high seas here. Visit Helm’s Jelly Lab at UNC-Asheville here.


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