For several days the ports, beaches and extensive portions of the surface waters of the Marmara Sea, where the famous Turkish city of Istanbul overlooks, have been covered with large layers of marine mucilage, a greyish and viscous substance resulting from the reaction of algae to the excessive pollution and higher than normal temperatures. This invasion of mucilage is damaging marine life and the fish sector and according to experts it would be the largest ever recorded in history: on Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced initiatives to try to eliminate the annoying gray foam and to prevent similar proliferations happen in the future.
The appearance of the mucilage in recent days is creating concern in all local communities bordering the Sea of Marmara, which separates the Black Sea in the north from the Aegean Sea in the south. Thick layers of this gelatinous substance are clogging the engines and nets of boats and preventing fishermen from working freely; some divers have observed that many fish and other animals have already died of suffocation.
Erdoğan blamed the exceptional proliferation of mucilage on the discharge of untreated sewage into the sea and the rise in temperatures due to climate change, and said that if the phenomenon were to extend to the Black Sea, “the problem will be enormous”. In the meantime, it has mobilized a team of 300 people to analyze possible sources of pollution and establish the next strategies to be adopted, promising to “save our seas from this calamity”.
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Istanbul University marine biology professor Bayram Ozturk called the massive mucilage invasion of recent days “a catastrophe”.
Mucilage is a sticky substance produced by plants to absorb and retain water, allowing them to resist drought. In the case of the one that has accumulated in the sea of Istanbul, and which in smaller quantities has been observed for years in the Mediterranean, it is however produced by marine algae when they are too rich in nutrients, due to pollution or too warm waters. In itself it is not harmful, but it can host bacteria and viruses in large quantities, and when it proliferates excessively it creates major problems for marine life, just like it is happening in the Sea of Marmara.
In Turkey, the first large proliferation of mucilage was identified in 2007, and according to Muharrem Balci, professor of biology at Istanbul University, the situation has progressively worsened in the last 40 years: when algae grow “in an enormous way, as they have done this year “, they prevent the sun from filtering through the water and cause a shortage of oxygen for fish and other marine animals, explained Balci to Al Jazeera. Due to the mucilage, several species are at risk of survival, including oysters, mussels and starfish: according to Ozturk, the problem will continue to recur unless new investments are made to treat and purify wastewater more efficiently.
Turkey’s environment minister, Murat Kurum, said the government’s goals include reducing nitrogen levels in seawater by 40 percent, an intervention experts say could help bring back. the waters to their former condition. Kurum also announced plans to transform the entire Marmara Sea area into a protected area to reduce pollution and said he wanted to improve the wastewater management systems of coastal cities. In addition, he invited NGOs and residents of communities affected by the problem to participate in a massive operation to clean up the waters, which began on Tuesday.