Stifling heat, sunburn to the peculiar pleasures of Spain's beaches in August, add the sting of the jellyfish. In the last couple of weeks, fleets of bloblike Pelagia noctiluca have reached beaches from Barcelona to Málaga.
In Catalonia alone, the Red Cross has treated 14,044 bathers for the painful stings. Local governments in Benidorm and elsewhere have posted signs in three languages warning of the dangers. The Interior Ministry has publicized advice for those who are stung wash the affected area with salt water, don't rub it, seek assistance. (In rare cases, an allergic reaction to the sting can prove deadly.) The Environment Ministry is sending out boats armed with large nets to snare the jellyfish before they reach shallow water.
And Spain is not the only country on the defensive: red warning flags have been hoisted on beaches in France, Sicily and along the Italian Riviera. Josep-María Gili, a marine biologist at the Institute of Ocean Science in Barcelona, attributes the surge in the jellyfish population to overfishing of its predators.
But he has another explanation for why so many jellyfish are reaching the beach: global warming. "Less rain and higher temperatures have made the coastal waters as salty and warm as those in the middle of the ocean," says Gili. "The invasion of the jellyfish is a message telling us that we have to take better care of the sea."