Sea snot outbreak in Turkey

GS 1Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location-changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.

GS 3 –  Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.

Source : The Indian Express dated 15/06/2021 https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-what-is-the-sea-snot-outbreak-in-turkey-7347989/

Context
  • There has been growing environmental concern in Turkey over the accumulation of ‘sea snot’, a slimy layer of grey or green sludge in the country’s seas, which can cause considerable damage to the marine ecosystem.
  • As the slimy layer spreads across the country’s seas, there are urgent calls now to tackle the crisis.
What is sea snot?

‘Sea snot’ is marine mucilage that is formed when algae are overloaded with nutrients as a result of water pollution combined with the effects of climate change.

  • The thick slimy layer of organic matter, which looks like a viscous, brown and foamy substance, has spread through the sea south of Istanbul and also blanketed harbours and shorelines.
  • A ‘sea snot’ outbreak was first recorded in the country in 2007. Back then, it was also spotted in the Aegean Sea near Greece. But the current outbreak in the Sea of Marmara is by far the biggest in the country’s history.
Where has this happened?

Turkey’s Sea of Marmara, that connects the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea, has witnessed the largest outbreak of ‘sea snot’. The sludge has also been spotted in the adjoining Black and Aegean seas.

Causes
  1. Dumping of waste
    • The uncontrolled dumping of household and industrial waste into the seas has led to the present crisis.
    • Discharge of untreated water from cities like Istanbul, which is home to 16 million people, into the seas.
    • Pollution from organic compounds like nitrogen and phosphorus.
  • Climate change
    • The nutrient overload occurs when algae feast on warm weather caused by global warming.
    •  the [water] temperature in Marmara has increased by 2 to 2.5 degrees [Celsius/up to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit] over the past 20 years, above the global average.
Impacts

The Marmara Sea, an important ecosystem and waterway between the Aegean and the Black Sea, is home to richly diverse marine life, including mussels, crabs, clams, coral and around 230 species of fish.

  • Threat to marine ecosystem
    • The mucilage is now covering the surface of the sea and has also spread to 80-100 feet below the surface. If unchecked, this can collapse to the bottom and cover the sea floor, causing major damage to the marine ecosystem.
    • As the sludge covers the surface and sinks beneath the waves to blanket the seabed, it sucks up oxygen in the watercreating dead zones that suffocate marine life and threaten the region’s diverse ecosystem.
    • It has caused mass deaths among the fish population, and also killed other aquatic organisms such as corals and sponges.
    • It could end up poisoning all aquatic life, including fishes, crabs, oysters, mussels and sea stars.
  • Affects livelihood of fishermen
    • The sludge is getting collected in their nets, making them so heavy that they break or get lost. 
    • The mucilage coating the strings make the nets visible to fish and keep them away.
  • Health issues
    • The ‘sea snot’ can cause an outbreak of water-borne diseases such as cholera in cities like Istanbul.
  • Affects tourism industry
    • The sea snot can also attract other microorganisms like viruses and bacteria, including the potentially deadly E. coli, which can harm sea creatures and people swimming in the gloopy water. 
    • It can result in closed beaches, another blow for a tourism industry already struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
What’s being done about it?
  • The Environment Ministry has outlined an ambitious 22-point plan to tackle the sea snot and clean up pollution in the Marmara.
  • The government is launching a fleet of emergency surface cleaning boats to “completely clean the mucilage in the Marmara Sea with scientific-based methods on a 24/7 basis
  • The government also plans to designate the entire sea as a protected area by the end of the year.
  • Turkey has planned to reduce nitrogen levels in the sea by 40%, which would help tackle the crisis.
Way forward
  • Turkey is yet to ratify the 2015 Paris Agreement; It has to approve the Agreement on climate change which aims to cut down on carbon emissions and reduce global temperatures.
  • President Erdogan’s $15bn Istanbul canal mega-project, which aims to dig a nearly 17 km channel between the Black and Marmara seas should be thoroughly assessed – Ecologists have argued that the move could seriously damage an already ailing marine ecosystem.
Conclusion

The sea snot phenomena is a stark warning to the world – a glimpse into an imminent future if humans continue to push the planet’s life support systems to the edge.

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