BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Bent over their microscopes, environmental science students at Boynton Beach High School are watching tiny crustaceans, worms and even minuscule clams, all of which came from the water of a canal at the school's western edge.
"I want them to see that all of this is right in their backyard," said their teacher, William "Bud" Gillan.
Magnified a thousandfold on the classroom wall, these tiny critters are wriggling and flexing their pincers like horror-film monsters.
When the school year ends, Gillan studies a different kind of monster, the jellyfish. His summer laboratory is Bonaire, a Dutch island off the coast of Venezuela that he has visited for 30 years, which is also the site of one of the most spectacular coral reefs in the Western Hemisphere. This year, Gillan will be leading a group of Smithsonian Institution scientists during the seventh annual Jellyfish Jamboree, June 17-31 in Bonaire.
The Jellyfish Jamboree is the marine equivalent of the Audubon Society's annual bird count. Recreational divers join scientists such as Gillan hunting for new varieties of jellyfish. Amateurs - Gillan calls them "citizen scientists" - are far more likely than professionals to spot a new species because they spend more time in the water.
The Smithsonian group is collecting information to build the jellyfish genome, a complete map of all jellyfish chromosomes.
"It's wonderful for me as a biologist and a teacher," said Gillan, who strolls from table to table in the lab, wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
The Smithsonian scientists asked Gillan to be their guide because he has amassed a list of accomplishments that attracted their attention, including identifying a new species, the Bonaire banded box jellyfish, and identifying a jellyfish swarm near Bonaire that was previously thought only to occur in the Pacific Ocean.
He also has conducted jellyfish sting studies for 13 years on local beaches.
The jellyfish swarm, a nightmare for swimmers and divers, is speed-dating for jellyfish. During the swarm, hundreds of jellyfish appear, like clockwork, eight to 10 days after the full moon. After the female jellyfish accumulate enough sperm to fertilize their eggs, the swarm disbands.
"This was very exciting for the Smithsonian," Gillan said. "When I sent them the pictures, they were beside themselves."
Jellyfish became interesting to Gillan when his children came home from the beach with sea lice rashes. He has gone on to work as a private consultant on remedies for sea lice rashes, sunburn, fire ant and spider bites and, of course, jellyfish stings.
Like many poisonous things in nature, the Bonaire banded box jellyfish is hypnotically beautiful, a bluish clear oblong jelly globe with long rust-colored tentacles decorated with horizontal stripes.
New species often get named after the scientist who found them, a modest form of immortality.
But in line with the Smithsonian's practice of promoting scientific education and citizen scientists, the new jellyfish got its name from an Internet contest open to the public.
From 309 entries, the name Tamoya ohboya was the entry submitted by another high school biology teacher, who wrote, "I am confident that Bud Gillan exclaimed 'Oh boy' when he saw (the) video of the Bonaire banded box jellyfish."
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