Turkey’s Sea of ​​Marmara is Drowning with Pollution

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BANDIRMA, Turkey — The Sea of ​​Marmara, legendary for centuries with its azure waters and sparkling fish, embraces the shores of Istanbul. His perfect form inspired the 19th century historian to describe the ancient city as “a diamond set between two sapphires”.

But Marmara has had a long nauseous seizure this year that has suffocated its waters and suffocated its marine life. In April thousands of fish died and by May a natural secretion called mucilage appeared and suffocated ports and beaches with its slimy film.

“This is an environmental disaster,” said 63-year-old Burhan Önen, while gathering his team for fishing in Bandırma recently. “We didn’t stop going out, but catches were down 80 percent.”

Also known by the instinctively correct definition of sea slug, mucilage is produced naturally by phytoplankton and is often consumed by other sea creatures, including jellyfish and sea cucumbers.

Mustafa Sarı, a faculty member at Bandırma Onyedi Eylül University Maritime Faculty, blamed three triggers for causing phytoplankton to secrete excess slime as of this fall: the surface temperature of the Sea of ​​Marmara, which has been continuously warming for two years. 2.5 degrees Celsius higher than the decades and 40-year average; excess phosphorus and nitrogen from pollution; and the natural stability of the Marmara, an inland sea.

Turkey had previously suffered from mucilage with some similarities. moss tides It’s caused by the overproduction of microorganisms that spread across the Adriatic Sea in 1989, which scientists also associate with warming and pollution.

The problem first came to light in November when Mr. Sari was flooded with urgent calls from local fishermen about mucilage.

He asked a friend to research it. He said the video his friend brought back from scuba diving was alarming. Large globules of mucilage were visible in the water, and at a depth of about 100 feet, the scene was completely black with zero visibility.

Hakan Sevgi, 52, a member of the fishing cooperative, said the slime stuck to the fishing nets and made them too heavy to pull. When a boat’s mechanical pulley broke, the crew spent seven hours pulling the nets by hand, a job that should have taken half an hour.

Other fishing workers said some crews were forced to cast their nets and now cast in shallow waters for only 30 minutes at a time.

During a dive this year, Mr. Sari said he found 30 sea cucumbers trying to climb off the seafloor, and one of them was clinging to the seashell and attempting to rise above the mud.

On a second dive, he found a few left.

“We only saw three of them, which means the others died,” he said. The slime was reducing oxygen, which was deadly to aquatic marine life.

December to March were poor times, but fishing crews hoped the warmer weather would disperse the mucilage as it had in the past. In April, however, disaster struck in Misakca, a small fishing village on the southern coast of Marmara.

“The sandfish turned white and died,” said 62-year-old Ahmet Kartal. “Even the crabs are dead.”

“We’re famous for our jumbo shrimp here, and now we don’t have one,” he added. “I’ve been a fisherman for fifty years and have never seen anything like it in my life.”

Mr. Sari said the gills of the dead fish were clogged with mucilage, but the bigger, unseen disaster was the disruption of the food chain.

“The greatest damage is done to the biodiversity of marine life,” he said. “The non-motiles, the reefs, the mussels, the sponges, the oysters have been hit hard. They’ll be back, but not in the short term.”

Erol Kesici, a hydrobiologist and consultant to the Nature Conservation Society of Turkey, said that the problems in Marmara have been brewing for years.

“There has been years of negotiation and warnings and nothing has been done,” he said. “The reason is residential and industrial waste and untreated waste dumped into deep waters.”

The area around the sea is densely populated – the city of Istanbul alone has reached 16 million – with further expansion plans. Mr. Cutter estimates that household waste may be responsible for 40 percent of the pollution, with industry and shipping causing the rest.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who built his legacy on major construction projects, Canal passing through Istanbul Opening an additional paid route for commercial transport from the Black Sea to Marmara. Scientists warned that the canal would cause great environmental damage to Marmara, but Mr. Erdogan and his ministers disputed these claims.

“Actually, it’s the opposite,” Transport Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu said in a television interview last month. “When the clean water of the Black Sea is mixed with the Marmara, the water quality of the Marmara will increase.”

Parts of the Marmara region are already heavily industrialized, and environment and urban planning minister Murat Kurum said last month that the government closed a fertilizer factory, a thermal power plant and three shipyards to reduce pollution when the mucilage crisis hit. News.

It was unclear whether the closures were temporary, but the minister said the government is also working to declare the sea a protected area.

Mucilage hit Turkey at a difficult moment. Crushed by an economic crisis and exhausted from pandemic quarantines, the Turks were desperate for some summer help. Coastal communities relied on a lively tourist season, and fishing crews, hotels and restaurants were gearing up for the busy months.

However, faces were sullen in the fish market in Bandırma last morning. Sales had been falling for months as the crew struggled to catch a prey. But now, just above the boats, the trunks lay on the concrete floor as buyers looked at them instead of bidding.

Customers were afraid to eat fish.

“Ordinary people don’t buy fish, so the price has dropped,” said Zihni Ertürk, a fishing boat and wholesaler business. He said his businesses have been making losses since January.

The Moby Dick restaurant across the market only served fish from the Black Sea, nothing from local waters.

Vacationers in Çanakkale, the favorite tourist destination of the Dardanelles Strait, where Marmara feeds the Aegean, looked at the harbor with mucilage that made the sea look like scallop soup.

When mud clogged ports and beaches, the government took action and commissioned municipal workers to try to pump it out. But the scientists said the real problem was underwater and there was no way to clean the seafloor. Hydrobiologist Mr. Kesici said the mucilage has spread to the Black Sea and the Aegean.

It has demanded greater supervision and stronger penalties to prevent illegal dumping, which has been largely unopposed for years. Stinky rivers and canals still feed the sea, he added.

But he and others called for a much more fundamental rethink, including a moratorium on waste disposal at sea for the remainder of the century.

“The burden on Marmara is very heavy,” said Kesici. “It cannot withstand shipbuilding, tourism, traffic, not even airplanes. He needs a break.”

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