What happens when the ocean has flu?
Jerry and Kyler are born to Finda. The two young ones and their mother swim around for food and fun. Their habitat is the Sea of Marmara, which lies between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea in the Mediterranean. But Jerry and Kyler are having breathing problems for few days, and Finda is also feeling smothered. Finda has been noticing flaky sticky substance sinking for the last few weeks and wonders, “Is this why they feel oxygen-starved?”
The flaky sticky substance is what scientists call marine mucilage. The common term for this is sea snot. Sea snot can be white, foamy like a cloud, or sticky slimy blanketing the water, or tiny flakes of “marine snow.” Initially, these flakes are mucus drops that collect organic debris and then sink slowly. The sea snot near Turkey’s coast is a yellow mucus-forming on the surface of the water. One can think of sea snot as a symptom of ocean flu.
While the sea snot looks disgusting to human eyes, its harmful effect is invisible to humans- it takes deep below the surface. Mucus formation is not unusual to the sea. Most organisms release mucus in the sea. Michael Stachowitch, a marine ecologist at Vienna University, says, “Mucus is everywhere.” “there’s no marine organism that doesn’t produce mucus, from the lowly snail to the slimy fish. But the slime becomes a problem when there is an excess of it- extremes are dangerous.
Why excess mucus formation?
Phytoplankton is algae found in fresh water and the ocean. These produce mucus. But an overgrowth or explosion of phytoplankton will produce mucus copiously. The sea snot forming on the Sea of Marmara is a result of the overgrowth of phytoplankton.
How did this explosion happen?
Well, untreated wastewater and fertilizer run-off ending in sea have fed the phytoplankton with excessive nutrients; thereby causing the phytoplankton to grow in an uncontrolled way.
The weather conditions have also favored mucus formation. Weather conditions like hot and calm water, which now exist off the Turkish coast, encourage mucus growth.
Marine organisms are deprived of oxygen as the mucus formation reduces the oxygen level in the water body.
Boats cannot travel through the slimy water because the sticky substance blocks the boat’s inlet designed for cooling the motor. “A motor can have a meltdown within a minute,” Stachowitsch said.
What can be done?
Not the first time that the world has seen sea snot. In the early 2000s, it was a common event off the coast of Italy. Italy controlled it by preventing untreated water from being dumped into the sea. Turkey will have to do the same.