Turkey’s maritime crisis: “The death knell of the Marmara Sea is ringing”


For ten years, marine biologist Nur Eda Topcu has been working to protect the fragile corals near the Istanbul coastline, which environmentalists say are threatened by the dumping of industrial waste, fuel and sewage.

Now she is worried that new threats may accelerate the end of the coral reefs in the Marmara Sea. In recent months, a gelatinous substance commonly known as sea snot suffocated aquatic life, hindered fishing activities, and discouraged swimmers.

In late July, long brown streaks of marine slime can still be seen on the Marmara River, while the slimy foam sinks below the sea surface and settles on rare corals. Scientists warn that the mixed ocean currents of the Mediterranean and Black Sea breed corals that are usually found at deeper depths, and that this sea area itself is also at risk.

“The death knell of Marmara is ringing,” Topku said after surfacing after a recent dive, cleaning up the mucus that is usually covered with purple coral on the Istanbul Islands. “We can’t stop the mucus. It suffocates the gorgonian [and] Infect them with harmful bacteria. “She was afraid of most of the soft red of Marmara ParameciumCoral species classified as fragile will die out this year.

Nur Eda Topcu (right) and Serco Eksiyan of the Marine Life Conservation Center during research diving © Bradley Secker/FT

The surface of the Marmara Sea is covered with a thick layer of marine mucus, also called

The sea is covered with a thick layer of marine mucus © Bradley Secker/FT

According to official statistics, the amount of wastewater discharged from factories to Turkish waters has almost doubled in recent years. According to a municipal monitor, 50,000 oil tankers passing through the Marmara River illegally dump waste and fuel each year. Nearly two-thirds of the country’s industries, including oil refineries, automakers, chemical plants, and power stations, are concentrated in this area.

Most of the wastewater from Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, is only treated to remove solids and then pumped to the seabed. “We use it as our sinkhole,” said Levent Artuz, aquatic biologist at the Marmara Environmental Monitoring Project and author of a new book A recent history of pollution in the Marmara Sea.

He said that since the beginning of this century, the sea temperature in Marmara has risen by an average of 2 degrees Celsius due to pollution trapping heat. This fact does not help. Last year’s national project to transfer one of Europe’s most toxic waterways from the Elgin River to Marmara was a “tipping point.”

“The key issue is not mucus. This is just one link in a chain of decades of degradation,” Artuz said. “Our chance of restoring the Marmara Sea is zero. What we have to do now is to find a way to prevent the Marmara people from harming us.”

Sea snot and pollution can be seen in the Marmara Sea

Long brown marine mucus stripes seen in the Marmara Sea in late July © Bradley Secker/FT

The border of the Marmara Sea severely affected by the

Scientists and fishermen say the current outbreak is unprecedented © Bradley Secker/FT

In recent years, marine organisms have died in large-scale death events, and there has been a phenomenon of large numbers of jellyfish and algae, such as red tides and mucus.

But scientists and fishermen said that the current outbreak is unprecedented. Phytoplankton is thriving due to nutrient-rich sewage and fertilizer from agricultural runoff, and overfishing has wiped out populations of small fish and crustaceans that consume algae.

Gone are the mackerel, tuna, swordfish and other seafood that Istanbul is famous for. According to Erdogan Kartal, the head of the Istanbul Fisheries Cooperative, the catch this year is 90% lower than in 2020 due to mucus clogging and dragging out of the net. “Even if we can supply the fish market, customers will not buy because of disgust.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to fight polluters and “save our oceans from this mucus.” The country’s environment minister said that thousands of cubic meters of sea snuff had been smoked. In early July, he announced that Marmara was “cleaner and bluer” than before.

Turkey is the only G20 country that has not yet ratified the Paris climate change agreement, and grassroots campaigns to protect the environment are often viewed by the government as a provocateur.

The authorities refused to register a new Green Party eager to tackle climate change. Scientists also said that a planned shipping canal from the Black Sea to Marmara may deplete Marmara’s oxygen and promote the production of hydrogen-sulfur gas, thereby filling Istanbul with the stench of rotten eggs. Erdogan’s Minister of Transportation believes that cleaner water from the Black Sea will improve the quality of the Marmara River.

In the process, Topcu and the members of the Istanbul Marine Conservation Society (MLCS) have achieved success. In April of this year, they obtained protection status for the small outcrop of Neandros, preventing boats from anchoring or trawling near the corals. They spent two summers transplanting the fan-shaped yellow sea whip to a nearby golden seaweed colony. eucalyptus Buried in the debris of government construction projects.

Serco Eksiyan of MLCS said: “We carry them like a heart or kidney transplant and put them in cold water and darkness to prevent shock.” It took more than 100 dives to harvest and replant 300 corals at a depth of 30 meters.

Eda Eryalçın Topçu (left), a marine biologist at Istanbul University, prepares her equipment before conducting research dives near Tavsan Adasi

Topku (left) prepares research equipment before diving in the Marmara Sea © Bradley Secker/FT

Eda Eryalçın Topçu, a marine biologist at Istanbul University, showed a photo of a research diving. The photo came from near Tavsan Adasi in the Marmara Sea in southern Istanbul. After repeated application of beneficial bacteria to corals, the Snot

A photo of diving. The sea snot continues to kill the submarine ecosystem and clog the corals © Bradley Secker/FT

But Eksiyan has been diving in the waters near the island since the 1970s and knew that the area was “like my room”, but the graft could not be found in July because the sea snot reduced the visibility to one or two meters. “It looks like a different planet,” Topku said.

A generation ago, Marmara’s rich fauna including seahorses, venomous scorpion fish and great white sharks have all disappeared. Although Eksiyan was looking for “ghost nets” discarded by industrial fishing boats, he still occasionally encountered a rare species. A rough shark with sharp edges and corners. Since 2015, MLCS has collected 32,000 square meters of grids.

“I believe that the ocean has the ability to renew itself from the destruction caused by humans. But now I doubt how long it can fight back,” Topku said.


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