The slimy, thick marine mucilage has covered vast expanses of water, harbours and endangered marine life.
Turkey is gearing up to clean the ‘sea snot’ that has threatened marine life and ecology in the waters around Istanbul.
Known as marine mucilage, the sea snot is a thick, slime-like organic matter partly caused by pollution, that has blanketed harbours and parts of the Sea of Marmara in recent weeks.
“It’s just like (human) saliva that consists of carbohydrates and protein,” said Professor Erkan Sahinkaya of Istanbul Medeniyet University at Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences.
“What we see on the surface is as much as what has collapsed and covered the seabed that we can’t see,” he told TRT World.
Marine mucilage is often called ‘sea snot’ because it looks like a large phlegmy sneeze on the surface of water. The organic substance can choke marine life including coral reefs, experts say.
Pictures and videos that have emerged in recent days show large stretches of water engulfed by the sticky mixture that can trap viruses and bacteria such as E.coli.
The problem became big enough to warrant President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to instruct his environment minister, Murat Kurum, to expedite the clean-up work immediately.
Professor Sahinkaya said the ‘sea snot’ is a reaction to a host of reasons including pollution and climate change. Nitrogen and phosphorus, which comes along with the sewage that cities dump into the Sea of Marmara, can be contributing to the mucilage, he said.
“Four million cubic meters of domestic sewage is discharged every day into the Marmara sea. Half of this is discharged into the Sea of Marmara without advanced biological treatment. This means it contains high amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon - all of which feed the microorganisms that produce the sea snot.”
Marine mucilage has appeared a couple of times in recent years in the Marmara Sea and surrounding waters. Scientists are unclear over what exactly causes the organic matter to clump together so that it becomes visible to the naked eye.
The Turkish government has put in place a 22-point action plan to deal with the situation. A sea vessel is already collecting samples to run lab tests that can better inform experts on how to move ahead.
Some 25 million people live in seven cities along the coast of the Marmara.
Professor Sahinkaya said it was imperative to expedite the work to remove the sea snot as oxygen levels for marine life were dropping.
“As per the government plan, water treatment stations can no longer discharge wastewater into the sea without advanced biological treatment.”
The advanced treatment plants have the capability to decrease nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the wastewater that goes into the sea.
Factories in dozens of industrial zones located on the edges of the Sea of Marmara are also contributing to marine mucilage, said Professor Sahinkaya.
“Now the government will tightly control how the industrial waste is discharged,” he said.
Authorities are also putting a plan in place to continuously run lab tests on wastewater to ensure that harmful material does not end up in the sea anymore.
The government’s action plan will monitor the streams that bring agrochemicals from the farmlands to the sea.
The measures being taken can help restore the ecology in the Sea of Marmara in the next 3-5 years but longer-term studies are required to avoid the sea snot problem in future, experts said.
“The issue of sea snot has been around for a while. But its appearance in such large quantities shows that it’s time to take concrete action,” said Professor Sahinkaya.
“This recent event shows that the Sea of Marmara can no longer bear the burden of such high amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, along with the impact of climate change.”