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Strange “Sea Snot” Takes Over Marmara Sea in Turkey

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A coral covered with sea snot aka mucus. Credit: Australian Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0

A strange phenomenon known as “sea snot” has taken over the Marmara Sea near Istanbul in Turkey, and scientists believe that climate change and pollution are to blame for the mucus-like substance.

Sea snot, known as marine mucilage by scientists, is made up of algae and phytoplankton that have been fed by unseasonably warm weather and pollutants, such as untreated sewage, in the water.

Although the slime itself is a naturally occurring substance under these specific circumstances, scientists blame climate change and increased pollution in the Marmara Sea for the creating the perfect conditions for the sea snot to develop.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to “save” the Marmara Sea from “this mucilage calamity,” which is likely linked to the dumping of untreated sewage from Istanbul into the water.

Erdogan has set up a team of 300 experts to investigate the cause of the slime, as well as potential solutions to the environmental disaster.

“My fear is, if this expands to Black Sea… the trouble will be enormous,” Erdogan stated.

Fears of the sea-snot expanding to Greece are also arising as a marine expert notes to Greek Reporter that smaller chunks of the substance have already been spotted in parts of Northern Greece.

The worst outbreak of sea snot ever recorded

Although sea snot has been found in both the Marmara Sea and the Aegean in the past, scientists say that the current crisis is the largest outbreak of the green slime ever recorded.

The thick, viscous sea snot sits on the surface of the Marmara Sea, which links the Black Sea to the Aegean, like a coating, and has had serious effects on marine life and the fishing industry in Turkey.

In certain areas, the sea slime even extends deep into the sea, touching the sea floor and potentially causing immense, lasting damage to the marine environment.

Visible from the shoreline, the wafting sludge clogs up the motors and nets of fishing boats and suffocates the marine life below the surface, killing countless fish.

Climate and environmental activists in Turkey see the sea snot as the result of years of inaction on protecting the country’s seas and waterways from pollution and climate change.

The slime is pervasive in the Marmara Sea

Scientists argue that the sea snot will become a persistent problem in the region if the country does not take meaningful steps to tackle pollution and implement robust water purification systems.

A research team from the Middle East Technical University, located in Ankara, Turkey, has set out on a vessel to examine the sea snot phenomenon in the Marmara Sea first hand.

They team has already been out on the sea for a week, and they have found that the extent of the problem is enormous.

METU Professor of Maritime Sciences Barış Salihoğlu announced the team’s findings to the Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Friday, stating:

“We have seen a gel-like structure spreading across the sea and never encountered such a large mass before…

“Agricultural waste, industrial waste pouring into the sea from deltas, tributaries particularly worsened it. We need to halve the pollution at least. Cleaning the pollution at least by half would return oxygen levels to normal within five to six years. We need patience and also swift measures,” Salihoğlu said.

Solving the sea snot problem

While Erdogan expressed his dedication to fixing the sea sludge problem, solutions to the persistent problem may be elusive.

A major part of the issue is the global rise in water temperature, which has a direct relationship to climate change, something that can’t be tackled by one task force alone.

Many experts have offered potential solutions to the issue, however.

Veysel Eroğlu, lawyer and former minister of Forestry and Waterworks in Turkey, outlined a plan of action for halting the issue at a press conference.

“All municipalities discharging wastewater into the Marmara should have biological treatment plants. Nitrogen and phosphorus should be eliminated from industrial wastewater. We need an industry that creates less pollution and consumes less water…”

“We need to rehabilitate all streams pouring into the Marmara. We need to check the pollution caused by pesticides. Finally, we need a tight inspection for pollution and to set up a monitoring network against pollution in all streams and all sources of wastewater pouring into the sea,” Eroğlu stated.

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