The ‘Sea Snot’ Invasion Has Arrived

The ‘Sea Snot’ Invasion Has Arrived

The coastline at Kabatas in Istanbul.

Photo: Ozan Kose (Getty Images)

The climate crisis is making Earth more dangerous with increasingly severe and frequent fires, storms, and droughts. It’s also making the world grosser. Case in point: It’s responsible for a sludgy substance spreading across waters in Turkey. Ew.

The stuff, unofficially and disgustingly known as “sea snot,” was first recorded on the Sea of Marmara in 2007. But there’s more of it now than there has ever been before. For the past six months, it’s spread in a thick, beige layer across the normally deep blue waters.

“I have been traveling here for 15 years and there used to be (snot) at some times,” Burak Yenilmez, who works on a ship, told the Daily Sabah. “But it is worse this year. It is such a dirty sight, and it stinks.”

The strange goo, made of dead overgrown phytoplankton, forms when nutrient-rich water remains still and calm during prolonged periods of heat. Experts think the nutrients came from wastewater, such as untreated sewage, getting dumped into the sea.

When there’s not an abundance of these nutrients or the waters aren’t too warm, sea snot isn’t a concern. In fact, the phytoplankton—drifting plants, algae, and some bacteria—play an essential role in ensuring that seas get oxygen. But in warm and nutrient-rich conditions, too many of the phytoplankton grow, and the gloop starts to form. Climate change is increasing ocean temperatures throughout the world, and it appears to have created a sea snot sweet spot in Turkey.

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A man with sea snot dripping from his fingers.

Photo: Annaleida/Wikimedia Commons

“The main trigger is warming related to climate change, as phytoplankton grow during higher temperatures,” Neslihan Özdelice, a marine biologist at Istanbul University, told the Guardian.

The sea snot doesn’t just look putrid, it can also pose problems for humans since it makes it impossible to fish or swim in the waters. Many Turkish people’s livelihoods depend on fisheries and tourism, and the gunk is taking a serious toll.

“Our work reduced up to 70%,” one sea snail hunter told the state-run media outlet Anadolu Agency.

The sticky substance can also harbor pathogens like viruses and bacteria that can be harmful to animals and humans alike. In addition, the surplus of snot can block out oxygen that marine life needs to survive. Fish’s gills can also get coated in the slurry as can coral, further suffocating life in its wake.

To counter the formation of this nasty stuff, we should of course work to draw down global carbon emissions to slow the climate crisis. But there are steps local officials could take alone, too. For instance, research shows that sea snot most often occurs in places that are overfished because fishing depletes the creatures that feed on phytoplankton. Lowering fisheries limits in the Sea of Marmara could help. So could restricting the amount of wastewater that enters the sea, which could limit nutrient growth.

Let’s hope municipalities undertake these solutions, because if not, the gloop could continue to spread. That could be devastating for local ecosystems and economies and also be repulsive.