5 things you need to know about mucilage or sea snot

Sea snot was 1st reported in 1997 in Dardanelles, Marmara Sea, and it resurfaced in 2007-2008 in a big way

Burak Bir   | 14.06.2021
5 things you need to know about mucilage or sea snot A drone photo shows an aerial view of the mucilage (sea snot) partly covering the surface of sea around the Canakkale 1915 Bridge in Canakkale, Turkey on June 13, 2021. ( Ali Atmaca - Anadolu Agency )


Turkish authorities have stepped up efforts to clean up the Marmara Sea of mucilage, the organic substances caused by a variety of factors such as climate change and waste that have a negative impact on the marine ecosystem. 

White layer formed on the water surface due to sea saliva (mucilage) in Tekirdag

TEKIRDAG, TURKEY - APRIL 30: A drone photo shows white layer formed on the water surface due to sea saliva (mucilage) in Tekirdag, Turkey on April 30, 2021. ( Mesut Karaduman - Anadolu Agency )

The Turkish government, however, has made a decision to clean up the water in accordance with the Marmara Sea Action Plan, which likely to halt the degradation of the marine ecosystem.

Anadolu Agency has collated the following significant points concerning marine mucilage, also known as "sea snot":

What is mucilage, how does it emerge?

Mucilage or "sea snot" is the result of the overgrowth of microscopic algae called phytoplankton, which constitutes the first step of biological production in the sea. The thick, mucus-like slimy layer contains a variety of microorganisms.

Mucilage formation, which is a secretion released into seawater in response to changes and anomalies in sea conditions, requires a stagnant sea as well as a high amount of nitrogen and phosphorus contents.

Mucilage, which is a part of a natural process under normal conditions, can expand excessively when the weather gets warmer in the spring months and it finds the right temperature and light.

However, as in the case of the Sea of Marmara, experts say the structure of the sea, as well as intense pollution and waste, and global climate change, are the main reasons beyond such intense mucilage formation.

When mucilage starts affecting Turkey's seas?

The mucilage problem, which was first reported in recent years in 1997 in the Dardanelles and the Marmara Sea, resurfaced in 2007-2008 in a big way and for a long time.

This year it was detected in January and then intensified and expanded in April, resulting in a serious problem contrary to previous examples, which usually disappeared in a month or 45 days.

As it continued to increase its intensity in May and June, the Turkish authorities announced a comprehensive action plan to clean up the Sea of Marmara.

Although there have been reports of mucilage reaching the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea – because the Sea of Marmara connects them – experts do not expect a large expansion in the two seas due to differences in condition and geography.

What dangers does mucilage pose?

Mucilage, which causes visual pollution and bad odor, is said to be a serious threat to the marine ecosystem.

While mucilage prevents oxygen transfer by covering the area from the sea surface to 30 meters deep in the Sea of Marmara, experts say it also kills non-motile or immobile organisms such as mussels, oysters, and pina, particularly sponges and corals.

Fish larvae and eggs are also severely harmed by mucilage, and it is also predicted that the fishing industry will suffer as a result of this situation in the coming years.

It is stated that the tourism sector around the Marmara Sea, which is in the form of a small family business and mostly for domestic visitors is also affected by this situation.

Is that common around the world?

Experts say the first sighting of mucilage was recorded in the Adriatic Sea in 1729.

According to reports, since the 1900s mucilage presence constantly repeated in that region and scientists have conducted various studies on the issue.

Experts point out that sea snot was observed in coastal areas where the human pressure was high in the 1990s, and that a similar situation occurred in the Adriatic Sea in 2007 and 2008.

During the 2007-2008 period, countries with coasts on the Adriatic Sea gathered to tackle the mucilage problem, and they mostly solved the issue due to a long-term plan and program in coordination.

What steps taken to solve issue?

On the solution, experts say that simply collecting mucilage on the surface will not yield definitive results. They suggest that conditions conducive to the formation of mucilage should be eliminated for a long-term solution.

To prevent marine mucilage, waste must be discharged after refinement, which removes impurities.

Aside from taking various steps to protect the fish population and biodiversity, it is also important to expand the protected areas that will allow the Marmara Sea to breathe.

It is also recommended that the number of advanced waste treatment facilities and inspections are increased.

As Turkey's Environment Minister Murat Kurum has said earlier that existing wastewater treatment plants in the region will be converted into advanced biological treatment facilities.

Experts also agree on the action plan, with some of them are optimistic that the Sea of Marmara may begin to recover within the next five years.

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