A growing coating of “sea snot” is threatening Turkey’s coral and fisheries and preventing locals and tourists from swimming in the Sea of Marmara. The gelatinous substance is really a floating blanket of out-of-control phytoplankton, stimulated by global warming.
The tiny sea plants proliferate when nitrogen and phosphorus levels are high. The Sea of Marmara has plenty of these nutrients, thanks to receiving wastewater from 20 million people. In normal amounts, phytoplankton is beneficial, breathing oxygen into the sea. But when too many grow in one place, they can become stressed and expel sea snot.
The substance itself isn’t usually harmful, being mainly a combination of fat, carbohydrates and protein. But when it forms a blanket, it can suffocate marine life, and its stickiness attracts bacteria and viruses. Plus, it’s disgusting.
“I have been traveling here for 15 years and there used to be snot at some times, but it is worse this year. It is such a dirty sight, and it stinks,” said ship worker Burak Yenilmez, as reported by Arab News.
Local commercial diver Hakan Kara has seen a huge reduction in his catch. What looks bad on the surface is 10 to 15 times worse underwater, he told Arab News. “It is in pieces, but everywhere. The bottom of the sea is completely covered with snot,” Kara said. “Sea horses, crabs, small fish and any marine creatures living there die because it clogs their gills. We need an urgent solution to this situation.”
Sea snot was first reported in Turkish waters in 2007. Climate change will only exacerbate the situation, as phytoplankton grow faster in hotter temperatures.
In addition to the environmental concerns, local businesses are worried about how sea snot will affect tourism. Turkey has just started to open up again to post-pandemic foreign tourism, after taking a two-thirds hit in 2020. Tourism accounts for about 12% of the country’s economy in a typical year.
Image via NASA