The Sea of Marmara, a ‘sapphire’ of Turkey, is choking from pollution


Written by Carlotta Gall

The Sea of Marmara, fabled for hundreds of years for its blue waters and glowing fish, laps the shores of Istanbul. Its good type impressed a Nineteenth-century historian to explain the traditional metropolis as “a diamond set between two sapphires.”

But the Marmara has been sickening for a very long time, and this 12 months, it suffered a paroxysm that choked its waters and suffocated marine life. In April, hundreds of fish died, and by May, a pure secretion referred to as mucilage emerged, smothering harbors and seashores with its slimy movie.

“It’s an environmental disaster,” stated Burhan Onen, 63, as he gathered his crew for a night time of fishing just lately within the metropolis of Bandirma. “We have not stopped going out, but catches are down 80%.”

Fishing staff repairing their nets on the harbor in Misakca, Turkey, on the Sea of Marmara, June 20, 2021. (The New York Times)

Mucilage, additionally recognized by the viscerally correct description of sea snot, is produced naturally by phytoplankton and often consumed by different marine life, together with jellyfish and sea cucumbers.

Mustafa Sari, a professor on the Maritime Faculty of Bandirma Onyedi Eylul University, blamed three triggers for inflicting the phytoplankton to secrete an extra of the slimy substance starting this fall: the floor temperature of the Sea of Marmara, which has been steadily warming over twenty years and is 2.5 levels Celsius greater than the 40-year common; extra phosphorus and nitrogen from pollution; and the pure stability of the Marmara, which is an inland sea.

Turkey has been plagued earlier than by mucilage, which bears some similarities to the tides of algae that unfold within the Adriatic Sea in 1989 — additionally brought on by overproduction of microorganisms that scientists have linked to warming and

The downside first got here to mild in November, when Sari was flooded with pressing calls from native fishermen in regards to the mucilage.

He requested a pal to analyze. The video his pal introduced again from a scuba dive was alarming, he stated. Large globules of mucilage had been seen within the water, and at about 100 toes deep, the scene was fully black, with zero visibility.

The slime was clinging to fishing nets, making them too heavy to tug in, stated Hakan Sevgi, 52, a member of a fishing cooperative. When the mechanical pulley of one boat snapped, the crew spent seven hours hauling within the nets by hand, a job that ought to take a half-hour.

Man fishing in the waters of Sea of Marmara Fishing in mucilaginous waters within the marina of Canakkale, Turkey on June 19, 2021. (The New York Times)

Some crews had been pressured to jettison their nets and now forged them solely in shallow waters for half-hour at a time, different fishing staff stated.

During a dive this 12 months, Sari stated he discovered 30 sea cucumbers making an attempt to climb off the ocean ground, with one clinging to a seashell in an obvious try and rise above the sludge.

On a second dive, he discovered few left.

“We only saw three, which means the others died,” he stated. The slime was diminishing the oxygen within the water, which is lethal to marine life.

December to March had been lean occasions, however the fishing crews had been holding out hope that hotter climate would dissipate the mucilage because it had prior to now. But in April in Misakca, a tiny fishing village on the southern shore of the Marmara, catastrophe struck.

“The sandfish all turned white and died,” stated Ahmet Kartal, 62. “Even the crabs died.”

“We are famous for our jumbo shrimp here, and now there is not even one,” he added. “Fifty years I have been a fisherman, and I have not seen anything like this in my life.”

The useless fish had gills clogged with mucilage, Sari stated, however the bigger, unseen catastrophe was a breakdown of the meals chain.

“The biggest damage is to the biodiversity of marine life,” he stated. “The ones that are not mobile — reefs, mussels, sponges, clams — these were heavily impacted. They will come back, but not in the short term.”

Sea of Marmara Trying to promote a catch to wholesale patrons and restaurant house owners at a fish market public sale in Bandirma, Turkey, June 18, 2021. The mucilage within the Sea of Marmara is creating one other disaster: Customers are scared to eat the fish. (The New York Times)

The issues within the Marmara had been brewing for years, stated Erol Kesici, a hydrobiologist and adviser to the Turkish Nature Conservation Association.

“There have been years of negotiation and warnings, and nothing was done,” he stated. “The cause is residential and industrial waste, and untreated waste that is discharged in deep waters.”

The space across the sea is closely populated — town of Istanbul alone has grown to 16 million — with plans for additional enlargement. Kesici estimated that family waste may account for 40% of the pollution, with trade and delivery inflicting the remainder.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has constructed his legacy on grand development initiatives, has a plan to construct a canal by means of Istanbul to open a further, fee-paying route for industrial delivery from the Black Sea to the Marmara. Scientists have warned the canal would trigger nice environmental injury to the Marmara, however Erdogan and his ministers have countered these claims.

“It is actually the opposite,” the minister of transportation, Adil Karaismailoglu, stated in a tv interview final month. “When the clear water of the Black Sea mingles with Marmara, the water high quality of Marmara will enhance.

Parts of the Marmara space are already closely industrialized, and the minister of the surroundings and concrete planning, Murat Kurum, stated final month that the federal government had closed a fertilizer manufacturing facility, a thermal energy station and three shipyards to scale back pollution when the mucilage disaster hit the information.

It was not clear whether or not the closures had been momentary, however the minister stated the federal government was additionally engaged on declaring the ocean a protected space.

The mucilage has hit Turkey at a tough second. Crushed by an financial disaster and exhausted by pandemic lockdowns, Turks had been determined for some summer time reduction. Coastal communities had been relying on a buoyant vacationer season, and fishing crews, accommodations and eating places had been gearing up for busy months.

But faces had been glum on the fish market in Bandirma on a latest morning. Sales had been down for months, as crews struggled to herald a catch. But now crates straight off the boats lay on the cement ground whereas patrons stared, not bidding.

Customers had been scared to eat the fish.

“Ordinary people are not buying fish, so the price fell,” stated Zihni Erturk, who owns a fishing trawler and a wholesale enterprise. He stated his companies had run at a loss since January.

Across the road from the market, the Moby Dick restaurant was serving solely fish from the Black Sea, nothing from native waters.

In Canakkale, a common vacationer city on the Dardanelles the place the Marmara feeds into the Aegean, vacationers peered into the harbor on the mucilage that had turned the ocean into the consistency of clam chowder.

Girded into motion when the slime clogged the ports and seashores, the federal government deployed municipal staff to attempt to pump it out. But scientists stated that the primary downside was underwater and that there was no technique to clear the seabed.

The mucilage is spreading to the Black Sea and the Aegean, stated Kesici, the hydrobiologist.

He referred to as for extra inspections and stronger penalties to forestall unlawful dumping, which has been largely unchallenged for years. Stinking rivers and canals nonetheless feed into the ocean, he added.

But he and others referred to as for a way more basic rethinking, together with a moratorium for the remainder of the century on waste disposal into the ocean.

“The burden on the Marmara is too heavy,” Kesici stated. “It cannot bear all the shipbuilding, tourism, traffic, even planes. It needs a break.”

This article initially appeared in The New York Times.


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