Professor Kylie Pitt at the Griffith Sea Jellies Research Laboratory
Professor Kylie Pitt at the Griffith Sea Jellies Research Laboratory

Southeast Queensland is a fantastic place to be a marine biologist.  Located at the intersection between tropical and temperate climatic zones, the Moreton Bay region hosts an array of habitats that provide important ecological and societal services, including coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds and, in deeper shelf waters, extensive forests of kelp.

As an academic and Discipline Head for Marine Science at Griffith University I combine my passion for research with educating the next generation of marine scientists.  I also lead the Griffith Sea Jellies Research Laboratory, a new joint project between Griffith University and Sea World.  The lab is one of just a handful in the world specialised to study jellyfish and is located within Sea World’s new ‘Sea Jellies Illuminated’ exhibit.  The glass walls of the lab enable the >1.2 million people who visit Sea World each year to watch researchers running experiments and working with microscopes and other scientific equipment.  This lab is uniquely placed to show the public what scientists do on a day-to-day basis, to engage children in science and to communicate the importance of scientific research.

Griffith students at Sea World’s new Sea Jellies Illuminated exhibit
Griffith students at Sea World’s new Sea Jellies Illuminated exhibit

Moreton Bay hosts a rich jellyfish fauna and many of Moreton Bay’s jellyfish species are displayed at Sea Jellies Illuminated.  Jellyfish are essential components of the ecology of Moreton Bay and are particularly important for supporting biodiversity.  For example, jellyfish are a major food source for the Bay’s sea turtles and for numerous species of fish.  Many larval and juvenile fish species also swim among the tentacles of jellyfish to seek protection from predators, and juvenile lobsters including Moreton Bay Bugs ride on and eat jellyfish.  Hence without jellies, Moreton Bay would be devoid of some of its iconic animals.

Jellyfish are also renowned for forming spectacular blooms within Moreton Bay.  The blue blubber (Catostylus mosaicus) is probably the most conspicuous jellyfish and is well known for forming incredibly dense aggregations that can extend 100s of metres.  This is the species that, in 2005, was responsible for running the USS Ronald Reagan, one of the world’s largest nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, out of the Port of Brisbane ahead of schedule.  The blubbers were so abundant that they kept being sucked into its cooling condensers, effectively disabling the ship!

The Moreton Bay Foundation is an exciting new initiative that will help ensure that Moreton Bay remains a healthy functioning ecosystem that supports sustainable industries and is a place we value for recreation.  It will achieve this by raising awareness of environmental issues in the Bay, by and supporting research and through celebrating the Bay’s rich cultural history.  It has been a privilege to work alongside the fantastic team of people who have worked to establish The Moreton Bay Foundation.