Can the Baltic Sea get sea snot in the future?

24 June, 2021

In recent weeks, there have been reports that “sea snots” have settled as a blanket on the Sea of Marmara, off the coast of Turkey. The snot is actually a kind of algal bloom, but has come to be called sea snot because of its texture and color. I CNN’s reportage , journalist Arwa Damon dives into the inland sea, to see if the disaster is as bad underneath as it is over the surface. There she meets corals and fish that have suffocated to death when the thick snot has settled on the seabed.

Turkish scientists have observed that there have been outbreaks of sea snot in Lake Maramara since 2007. In contrast, Boris Ozalp, a marine biologist and coral expert, tells CNN that 2021 is the first year that the gegga actually kills life in the ocean.

But what is it that distinguishes the sea snort in Turkey from the algal blooms we encounter in the Baltic Sea in the summer? Alf Norkko is a researcher at the University of Helsinki. He explains that in the Baltic Sea, flowering comes from blue-green bacteria, while in Turkey he believes that in Turkey it is about algae.

“It’s a question of very strong algal blooms, similar to the Baltic Sea’s cyanobacteria blooms, but in this case it’s probably diatoms and armored algae,” he says.

The sea snort in the Sea of Marmara is more concentrated and the algae are denser than the bacterial blooms that occur in the Baltic Sea – which means that they can suffocate life below the surface. But the reason why both seas are covered by the blooms is said to be the same.

“It is warm and calm weather combined with intense eutrophication that is the problem. The Sea of Marmara is an ocean that is snotty because it suffers from fever. The algae masses are thus dying or dead. Once they sink to the bottom, they of course consume oxygen and the intense mucus also makes it stick everywhere.

The researchers have no answer as to why the algal bloom has exploded as it has this year and the disaster has sparked strong political engagement in the country. BBC reports that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that “the problem must be solved urgently, before it makes its way out to the Black Sea”. He allegedly sent 300 officials to the sea, according to the news media, to find a solution to the problem.

Alf Norkko says that the spread of sea snot, or sea mucus as it is also called, is something scientists have been warning about for a long time. He refers to a report by Jeremy Jackson, Mass Extinctions And ‘Rise Of Slime’ Predicted For Oceans, in which the author warned back in 2008 of an increase in “slime” in the world’s oceans. Jackson believes that intensive fishing, combined with increased pollution and a warmer climate, can become a breeding ground for more algal blooms. Such a development can also make the oceans acidic and increase oxygen deprivation, which will make it difficult for corals and fish to survive.

If proper action is not taken, Jackson writes in his report published 13 years ago, our oceans could in the future turn into a place where bacteria, jellyfish — and sea snot — reign.

Does this mean that the Baltic Sea’s algal bloom could develop to become more and more like sea snot in the future? No, says Nils Kautsky, professor of marine echotoxicology at Stockholm University. He has also followed the media reports from the Sea of Marmara.

– I don’t think so at all. The Baltic Sea is larger, has much better water turnover and is colder than Lake Maramara. In addition, we have been working to reduce our pollution for a long time, both in the Baltic Sea and on the West Coast, so I find it difficult to see that we could see a similar phenomenon here,” he says.

Text: Fanny Jönsson
Photo: TT Image / Reuters / UMIT BEKTAS

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