Environmental pollution due to the excessive use and misuse of energy resources is one of the unfortunate consequences of the developing world, significantly contributing to climate change. The resulting global warming and the temperature increase cause the Earth’s surface and the seas to warm up over time, endangering the delicate balance of life and biodiversity on Earth. A recent example of this situation is the mucus-like substance, mucilage, also known as sea snot, covering the surface and the shores of the Sea of Marmara.
Marine pollution and the increase of wastewater discharged to the sea increased the available nitrogen and phosphorus in the Sea of Marmara. Mucilage formation resulted from the severe proliferation of phytoplankton due to the excess availability of these nutrients that they feed on in seawater. An additional trigger was the 2.5 degrees (celsius) increase in the average temperature of the Sea of Marmara in 2021. This seemingly slight increase in temperature has caused phytoplankton and bacteria in the sea to reproduce and multiply even more. Another cause is the state of stagnation of the seawater. Especially in the Sea of Marmara, which is a calm and closed sea, the mucilage layers formed limited the vertical mixing of the water, causing a further increase of this formation.
It is not the first time we see mucilage. It was first reported in the Adriatic Sea in 1729, but in the last 30 years, it has been occurring more frequently and intensely. This event, causing a drop in the oxygen level in the water, was also experienced in 2007 in the Sea of Marmara. However, since the oxygen in 2007 was at a higher level than today, mucilage did not become a problem back then.
Mucilage does not only cause visual pollution and bad odor, but it also is a severe threat to the marine ecosystem, depending on the amount of oxygen available in the water. In places where mucilage is common, many fish species are deprived of oxygen and die. The sea saliva that sinks to the bottom covers the corals and mussels, causing them to suffocate. The disappearance of the corals and the mussels which clean the sea further causes an increase in sea pollution. On the other hand, it has economic impacts on the fishing, maritime, and tourism sectors, which were already adversely affected by the Covid-19 crisis.
Although mucilage formation is one of the natural processes of the ecosystem from time to time, the damage to the balance of the ecosystem due to environmental perturbations caused by humans has made it a big problem today.
Cleaning the mucilage from the surface or waiting for it to disperse naturally can be considered as a partial and temporary solution in the first place. However, it is necessary and urgent to take long-term measures to tackle the real causes of the problem. The waste and wastewater treatment facilities should be improved, and if not adequate, new ones should be constructed. The discharge of wastes to the open sea without complete purification accelerates mucilage formation. Preventing the use of harmful chemicals in agriculture and bringing harsh controls to the industry that is partly responsible for this disaster are among the possible solutions for avoiding mucilage. Furthermore, scientific research projects involving candidate microorganisms that could clean the mucilage should be supported by the government, also possibly by the private sector. It should be the main focus of the universities with relevant research groups.
All institutions and citizens should join forces to prevent further pollution and raise awareness of today's environmental disasters. While taking advantage of the Earth’s resources, we must not assume that they are unlimited. We are responsible for preserving the biodiversity on Earth firstly for ourselves, and most importantly, for future generations.
Dr. Burcu Aykac Fas