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Home > Smart Living> Environment > What is the sea snot outbreak affecting Turkey’s shores?

What is the sea snot outbreak affecting Turkey’s shores?

The organic matter has spread through the Sea of Marmara, posing a threat to marine life and the fishing industry

This aerial photograph taken on June 6, 2021 in Turkey's Marmara Sea at a harbor on the shoreline of Istanbul shows mucilage, a jelly-like layer of slime that develops on the surface of the water due to the excessive proliferation of phytoplankton, gravely threatening the marine biome.
This aerial photograph taken on June 6, 2021 in Turkey's Marmara Sea at a harbor on the shoreline of Istanbul shows mucilage, a jelly-like layer of slime that develops on the surface of the water due to the excessive proliferation of phytoplankton, gravely threatening the marine biome. (AFP)

An outbreak of ‘sea snot’ has environmentalists and Turkish politicians on edge as it continues to affect the Sea of Marmara, south of Istanbul. So much so that on Sunday night, Turkey’s environment minister Murat Kurum said that the country planned to designate the entire Sea of Marmara a protected area, reduce pollution and improve treatment of waste water from coastal cities and ships which has helped the sea snot to spread.

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He also called on local residents, artists and non-government organizations to join what he said would be Turkey's biggest maritime clean-up operation, starting on Tuesday, a Reuters report on the situation explains.

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A thick slimy layer of the organic matter, known as marine mucilage, has spread through the sea south of Istanbul, posing a threat to marine life and the fishing industry. Harbours, shorelines and swathes of seawater have been blanketed by the viscous, greyish substance, some of which has also sunk below the waves, suffocating life on the seabed, the Reuters report adds.

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Seagulls roost on rocks by the sea covered with a plague of 'sea snot', a thick slimy layer of the organic matter, also known as marine mucilage, spread through the Sea of Marmara and posing a threat to marine life and the fishing industry, on the shores of Istanbul, Turkey June 6, 2021.
Seagulls roost on rocks by the sea covered with a plague of 'sea snot', a thick slimy layer of the organic matter, also known as marine mucilage, spread through the Sea of Marmara and posing a threat to marine life and the fishing industry, on the shores of Istanbul, Turkey June 6, 2021. (REUTERS)

According to scientists, climate change and pollution have contributed to the proliferation of the organic matter, which contains a wide variety of microorganisms and can flourish when nutrient-rich sewage flows into seawater. As per an AFP report, the naturally-occurring mucilage was first documented in Turkey in 2007, when it was also seen in parts of the Aegean Sea near Greece.

An aerial photo of Pendik port in Asian side of Istanbul, Friday, June 4, 2021, with a huge mass of marine mucilage, a thick, slimy substance made up of compounds released by marine organisms, in Turkey's Marmara Sea.
An aerial photo of Pendik port in Asian side of Istanbul, Friday, June 4, 2021, with a huge mass of marine mucilage, a thick, slimy substance made up of compounds released by marine organisms, in Turkey's Marmara Sea. (AP)

But this outbreak is the largest on record, blamed by experts on a combination of pollution and global warming, which speeds up the growth of algae responsible for the slimy sludge, the AFP report explains.

Muharrem Balci, an associate professor at the Istanbul University, said when the algae grow out of control in springtime, as they have done this year, they block out the sun and cause oxygen depletion for the fish in the sea. The viscous substance lapping the shores of Istanbul comes from a sort of nutrient overload for the algae, which feast on warm weather and water pollution that has grown progressively worse in the past 40 years, Balci told AFP. “This mucilage is now covering the sea surface like a tent canvas," he adds in the report.

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Kurum, Turkey’s environment minister, said he was hopeful of protecting the Marmara within the framework of a disaster management plan. "We will take all the necessary steps within three years and realize the projects that will save not only the present but also the future together," he told Reuters. Kurum said the measures Turkey planned would reduce nitrogen levels in the sea by 40%, a move which he said scientists believed would help restore the waters to their previous state.

(With inputs from agencies)

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