‘Sea snot’ bloom off the Turkish coast

The rise of slime off Turkey is a dangerous eyesore. But it's not all doom and gloop: this can be reversed...
25 June 2021

BEACH

A beach in Alanya, Turkey.

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A thick jelly-like carpet of ‘sea snot’ is spreading off the coastline of Turkey’s Sea of Marmara.

The thick, slimy substance is not only a stinky eye-sore: it can make people sick and simultaneously also devastate the economy of the region.

First seen in 2007, the inland sea’s record-breaking marine bloom stretches from Istanbul, Europe’s most populated city, to the tourist hotspot of the Aegean. 

The heavily industrialised shoreline on one of the planet’s smallest seas is also a source of pollution. Agricultural runoff and ineffective waste disposal, coupled with increasing temperatures, have led to high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the waters.

These nutrients provide the perfect environment for phytoplankton, tiny, floating sea plants that release oxygen in the oceans – normally a good thing.

But with excess levels of nutrients they rapidly increase in numbers, consume all of the available oxygen then die. The resulting rotten mass is the slimy sea snot now bobbing along side coastline and washing ashore.

This raft of microorganisms also contains bacteria and other toxic microorganisms harmful to human health.

David Kline from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute noted that, “sea snot epidemics are a big concern all around the world. With global climate change one of the only things we can do locally to help corals and coastal ecosystems is to remove nutrients and control the pollution that ends up in our waters.”

The issue is greater than skin-deep though, because, as the dead slime sinks, it continues to suffocate sponges, fish, crabs and coral. 

These animals then exude mucus in their death throes, and their rotting flesh attracts bacteria, which also use oxygen, accelerating the vicious - and viscous - cycle.

It’s "snot" all doom and gloop though. Kline recalls the recovery of Hawaii’s Kaneohe Baya, “when they removed the sewage outflow and made a water treatment plant, the coral reefs came back. They were able to reverse the decline caused by the nutrients.” Let's hope Turkey can stifle it's snot problem too, and soon.

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