Did you know that there are at least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic waste estimated to be in our oceans? Don’t be surprised because it is us humans who are responsible for this. A minimum of 269,000 tons of plastic float, four billion microfibers per sq km dwell below the surface. It has been found that 70 per cent of our debris sinks into the ocean’s ecosystem, about 15 per cent floats, and 15 per cent gets accumulated on our beaches. While humanity has made quite a mess already, a new and seemingly relentless phenomenon has begun to creep into the waters surrounding Turkey. What could become a much more concerning and larger global problem sooner than later, the phlegm-like substance present in the Turkish waters has been dubbed ‘Sea Snot’. So, what is sea snot, and why is its presence so worrying to scientists all over the world?
Sea Snot can be of various shapes, sizes and colours. It can be drab and brown, or frothy and almost creamy, depending on how you look at it. It can also appear as white squiggles on the surface of water or as a dark patch, floating on the surface of the sea. Once you get a close enough look and are able to smell and touch it, you will know what it is. Sea Snot is also called ‘marine mucilage’ or ‘sea saliva’. What is sea snot made of? It has been found to be an amalgamation of organic material mashed together to create something that can be described as gunk.
According to Atlas Obscura, an online magazine, scientists at Italy’s Polytechnic University of Marche consider it to be “a gelatinous stage of marine snow.” Pure Sea Snot is expected to contain everything from faeces to fragments of dead plants and animals. It rises from the ocean floor to the surface and gradually becomes harmful for both humans and the marine ecosystem.
Marine snow is said to originate in the surface waters of the ocean, primarily composed of phytoplankton produced through photosynthesis and microbes. As the material begins to sink, it then collects other floating debris, including faecal material, dead and decaying animals, suspended sediments (like silt), and other organic material, which might be present in the water as a result of being transferred from the land. This material, in its entirety, is called “marine snow,” because it looks a bit like snowflakes that we see on land.
What’s happening in Turkey is being called a downright “mucilage calamity,” in the words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Sea Snot formed there has surfaced and turned uncontrollable, gelling into a thick layer of yellowing slime on the surface of seawater. For months now, this smelly and thick mucus has blanketed the Sea of Marmara, which connects the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea in the Mediterranean. It has already become fatal to shellfish, a reason for clogging nets, and hence leading to the destruction of the fishing industry.
As scientists have said, the most recent patch of Sea Snot that’s currently choking Turkey’s Sea of Marmara is a result of microorganisms and harmful microalgae coming together, thus resulting in a sticky, sugary substance known as polysaccharides. As you might have studied in your Biology lessons, Polysaccharides, or poly carbohydrates, are the most abundant carbohydrates found in food. They are long-chain polymeric carbohydrates composed of monosaccharide units bound together by glycosidic linkages.
The Sea Snot is also composed of dead material, excreta, algae, sugars, and seawater, which could create more problems for the planet’s already-threatened oceans. However, this cannot be considered a one-time occurrence. Scientists fear that much more is probably lurking under the ocean.
According to the Daily Sabah, a Turkish daily publication, “this overgrowth of algae and other microorganisms is just another indication of rising global temperatures. Algae blooms are a known symptom of climate change, and the combination of warming seas, more light, and plenty of food makes the Marmara Sea a perfect environment for reproduction.” Pollution in our oceans also contributes a significant amount towards the formation of sea snot or marine mucilage. It adds more nitrogen and phosphorus to the environment than the sea’s formerly starved phytoplankton are used to. The algae then feed, bloom, starve and die, resulting in even more mucilage gumming up the waters. It can disrupt the food chain from the ground up, and a thin coating of mucilage can even create oxygen deprivation. Scientists have also discovered that viruses can get stuck in the Sea Snot, which then get carried all around by the ocean waves and severe currents. All of this, in turn, has extremely hazardous effects on both the fishing and tourism industries, leading to significant harm below and above the sea.
Another major phenomenon that can contribute to Sea Snot becoming a larger threat to our environment is eutrophication. What is eutrophication? Simply put, it is an enrichment of water by nutrient salts that causes structural changes to the ecosystem. This could include increased production of algae and aquatic plants, depletion of fish species, general deterioration of water quality and more. All our water bodies are known to have a natural and slow eutrophication process, which in recent times has undergone an extensively rapid progression due to human intervention.
In conclusion, to control and manage mucilage or even eutrophic processes, collective effort needs to be made by scientists, policymakers and citizens around the world.
How do you think we can control pollution and save the environment? Tell us in the comments below.
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Shreesha idolises Shahrukh Khan (yeah that's her most important trait). She wants to have a nice, really long chat with him someday. In her short but happening journalistic career - four and a half years to be apt- she has contributed towards enriching the society with knowledge (at least that's what she thinks!). Now, she's moved on to something more exciting. Petrichor, she loves her hot chocolate, romance novels and a cozy corner. Would rather Netflix & chill than dress up and step out.
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