For the last time, those weren't jellyfish eggs washing up on local beaches this weekend.
Much to the befuddlement of beachgoers who took to the Jersey Shore this Fourth Of July, the gelatinous organisms that made their way to many beaches are a little known creature called salps.
The salp is a simple, filter-feeding organism that is somewhat related to the common jellyfish, with one major difference— the salp is a member of the phylum Chordata, meaning that in at least some part of its life cycle, it has a spinal cord.
While they make for a slimy ocean swim, salps are actually harmless to humans and, scientists believe, may help to remove carbon dioxide from the environment.
What's more— salps reproduce in symbiosis with phytoplankton and play a vital role in removing phytoplankton from the water and controlling their blooms.
A 2010 article in Science Daily reported findings from a study conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and MIT, which illustrated the important role that salps play in the Earth's carbon cycle.
Put simply, salps quickly remove carbon from surface water, sinking it to the sea floor in fecal pellets. Scientists believe that with the upper ocean waters free to house more carbon, the ocean ecosystem needs to release less of it into the atmosphere.
Salps are typically more prevalent in southern oceans, as they favor warm water. In New Jersey, they generally arrive with warm weather as the Labrador Current switches places with the Gulf Stream, bringing warm ocean waters to the Jersey Shore.