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A new volunteer program will enable the public to help report sightings of an exotic invader in the Indian River Lagoon.

DockWatch is transforming lagoon users into watchdogs for science. The program, funded through a $40,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant, will help scientists improve their understanding of the seasonality and distribution of spotted "jellies" in the lagoon. DockWatch was founded by Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama.

Volunteers receive monitoring kits that enable them to submit vital information such as water temperature and salinity during a sighting to the DockWatch Web site.

"This Web site will help the public serve as a second set of eyes for scientists studying jellies in the lagoon," says Troy Rice, Lagoon Program director. "In addition, the program will explain how nuisance species like spotted jellyfish impact both the ecology and economy of coastal estuaries."

So far, more than a dozen people have signed up to become volunteers. Rice is hopeful that others will join the ranks as word of the fledgling program spreads throughout the lagoon's 156-mile-long watershed.

In addition, the St. Johns River Water Management District is distributing thousands of jellyfish identification cards to the public. The wallet-size cards include a color photo of an Australian jelly, a synopsis of its arrival and resulting harm in Florida's waters, and contact information.

During the past two summers, the Australian spotted jellyfish has made brief appearances in the lagoon, raising concerns among scientists that this voracious eater could permanently adapt to the lagoon's marine environment. So far, no jellies have been sighted in the lagoon this year.

The spotted jellies, Phyllorhiza punctata, made headlines several years ago when they appeared in the Gulf of Mexico, causing problems in the nets of shrimp boats and consuming huge numbers of fish eggs, larvae and other microzooplankton.

Concern about the predatory nature of the jellies turned to the lagoon when a handful were spotted there during the summer of 2001. Another was found the following summer.

For more information, visit DockWatch online at http://dockwatch.disl.org.
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