“Sea Snot” Outbreak Covers Coast of Turkey’s Sea of Marmara

Graphic: Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

An invasion of “sea snot” has literally slimed the coast of the Sea of Marmara in Turkey. Like the name suggests, “sea snot,” or marine mucilage, is a snot-like film that floats on the surface of seawater, and stinks. This influx of “sea snot,” is the largest in history, and could threaten marine life and fishing.  The substance is described as “gloopy” and is a result of prolonged warm temperatures and calm weather and in areas with abundant nutrients in the water.  It is aggravated by overfishing because as filter feeders that consume phytoplankton are excessively hunted, it allows room for phytoplankton and sea snot to reproduce. The outbreak began in late December and has made it impossible for fishers to cast their nets since then.

Why this Matters: Marine mucilage forms when nutrient-rich waters remain stagnant during long stints of hot weather, which then allows phytoplankton to propagate and spread uncontrollably, oozing a mucus that contains protein, carbohydrates, and fat. This substance can then wreak havoc — it attracts viruses and bacteria that can infect animals and humans, blocks fish gills and coral, prevents marine life from getting oxygen from the water’s surface, and makes it impossible for people to fish or swim. “Sea snot” is becoming more and more common due to climate change and water pollution. Rising temperatures and water pollution, especially from untreated sewage, provide an ideal nutrient-dense and warm environment for phytoplankton to overgrow. “Sea snot” is just one more environmental disaster that has worsened with global warming. 

Cleaning up the Snot

In a statement,  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to “clear our seas from the mucilage scourge” and also prevent further outbreaks by keeping large cities like Istanbul — home to 16 million people — from dumping untreated seawater into the Marmara Sea. He also plans to have the country’s Ministry of Environment and Urbanization examine wastewater and solid waste facilities to determine the sources of pollution. 

Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum emphasized that the administration plans to designate the Marmara Sea as a protected area, improve wastewater treatment, and reduce pollution. If these measures prove successful, they would reduce the sea’s nitrogen levels by 40%, which experts believe would restore the sea to its previous state. Cleaning up the snot will be Turkey’s biggest maritime clean-up operation to date. “Hopefully, together we will protect our Marmara within the framework of a disaster management plan,” Kurum told Reuters. “We will take all the necessary steps within three years and realize the projects that will save not only the present but also the future together.”

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