Turkey Races to Stop ‘Sea Snot’ Spreading to Neighboring Waters

A massive effort is underway to clean a slimy substance known as “sea snot” from Turkey’s Sea of Marmara and stop its spread to adjoining waters rich in marine life that lap against some of Europe’s top beaches.

The thick layer of so-called marine mucilage is caused by algae rapidly reproducing in nutrient-rich water, with pollution and rising sea temperatures seen as major causes. Since it was first observed in January, the slime has spread to nearly all of Marmara, an inland sea near Istanbul that connects the Black Sea to the Aegean.

Turkey Races to Stop ‘Sea Snot’ Spreading to Neighboring Waters

Authorities had sucked and skimmed up more than 4,500 cubic meters (159,000 cubic feet) of mucilage as of June 19, Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum said on Twitter. The operations of 14 corporations, whose emissions could have fueled the buildup, were suspended, he said.

“Sea snot is not the problem, it’s just a result,” hydrobiologist Levent Artuz said by phone. “Marmara is now a sea just in name. At best, we’ll have this mucilage once every five or six years. If authorities act decisively, though, we can still save the Black Sea and the Aegean.”

Turkey shares the Aegean with Greece, and the Black Sea with five other nations, including Russia.

Toxic River

The Sea of Marmara is surrounded by Turkey’s industrial heartlands, with more than half its top 100 companies based in the region, including carmakers, glass companies, refiners, steelmakers, chemicals companies and energy firms. Domestic and industrial waste has poured into its waters for more than half a century, Istanbul University academic Meric Albay told NTV.

Fertilizer maker Bagfas Bandirma said it has been given 50 days to stop pollution entering the sea from its plant. Shares in the company, which says it uses sea water only for cooling purposes, have slumped 41% this month.

An effort to clean up the Ergene River in Turkey’s Thrace region may have tipped the sea into disaster, said Artuz. The Ergene Deep Sea Discharge project late last year began pumping industrial waste from one of Europe’s most toxic rivers into Marmara, he said.

Turkey’s top opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, accused the government of treating Marmara as a tank for commercial waste.

An official in Ankara with knowledge of the Ergene project, who asked not to be named, said it was only operating at about 3% capacity and is unlikely to be the source of the pollution. Waste from thousands of factories is a more likely culprit, the official said.

Fishing has been hard hit.

“Compared to January, fishing is down as much as 90%,” Erdogan Kartal, head of a fishery cooperative in Istanbul, told Anadolu Agency June 19. “It’s now much harder to catch the fish, as our nets sink to the bottom, their holes clogged. Even if we catch, no one’s buying.”

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