Vast amounts of creatures looking like jelly balls have begun to appear off the eastern coast of Australia, and researchers now suspect that these animals may help slow down global warming by moving carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the ocean floor.

The proper English name for this “jelly ball” being is salp. A salp is a barrel-shaped free-floating tunicate that moves around in the ocean by contracting and relaxing its gelatinous body. Just like the other tunicates, the salp is a filter feeder that loves to eat phytoplankton and this is why it has caught the attention of scientists researching global warming.

Phytoplankton are famous for their ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the top level of the sea, and a salp feasting on phytoplankton will excrete that carbon dioxide in the form of faeces. The faeces will drop to the ocean floor; thus lowering the amount of carbon dioxide present in the upper part of the ocean. Since the carbon dioxide found in this level of the sea chiefly hails from the atmosphere, phytoplankton and salps are a great aid when it comes to removing carbon dioxide from the air. Salps will also bring carbon down to the ocean floor when they die, which happens fairly often since the life cycle of this organism is no more than a few weeks.

Salp species can be found in marine environments all over the world, but they are most abundant and concentrated in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica where it is possible to encounter enormous swarms of salp. Over the last 100 years, krill populations in the Southern Ocean have declined and salp populations seem to be replacing them in this cold ecosystem. According to researcher Mark Baird of the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO), the amount of salps in the waters off Australia are also on the increase, at least according to a survey carried out last month by CSIRO and the University of New South Wales.

While salp may help slow down global warming, their increase may also cause problems. Salp has a fairly low nutrient content and salps replacing nutrient rich krill in the Southern Sea may therefore prove detrimental for oceanic animals higher up in the food chain.