The Italian Almanac


Italian News - August 21

In the 1975 blockbuster film "Jaws" it was a great white shark which kept holidaymakers off the beach. It is a less lethal but perhaps equally worrying menace that has closed stretches of the Mediterranean to swimmers this summer: jellyfish and seaweed. Thousands of holidaymakers in parts of Italy and Spain have been told not to enter the water due to the threat of stings and poisoning from unusually large outbreaks of algae and jellyfish, which ecologists say are yet another symptom of global warming.

The seaweed, a toxic algae called ostreopsis ovata, has forced the closure of usually bustling beaches in Italy and caused considerable discomfort for those who entered the water. The algae can cause skin irritations and respiratory problems and an outbreak caused a large stretch of beach near Rome to be closed for several days.

After the algae cleared, the coast was infested with jellyfish -- a problem that has also plagued some of the most popular beaches in Spain this August. Many scientists see the jellyfish and algae outbreaks as signs the Mediterranean is under stress, and even that it is becoming "tropicalised" -- its ecology changing due to warmer temperatures and invasive species from hotter climes.

"We already knew that the Mediterranean has started to be invaded with tropical species and its biodiversity has changed," said biologist Isabella Barone, from the University of Palermo. Surface temperatures in the Mediterranean hit 29 degrees Celsius (84F) during August, according to the British Meteorological Office, compared to a long-term average of 24 to 27 Celsius (75 to 80F).