A natural crisis of gargantuan proportions... is Ireland next?

Turkey is dealing with a combination of pollution and climate change in the Sea of Marmara. AILIN QUINLAN asks if Ireland is facing a similar issue 
A natural crisis of gargantuan proportions... is Ireland next?

Pendik port, on the Asian side of Istanbul. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to rescue the Marmara Sea from an outbreak of “sea snot” that is alarming marine biologists and environmentalists. Picture: AP Photo

YOU might say it’s a long way from dumping black bags on rural laneways to ending up with our entire coastline covered in sea snot, but it’s not necessarily that far at all.

Repulsive images from Turkey, of the Sea of Marmara covered in a thick, grey slime believed to have been caused by a combination of pollution and climate change, are the writing on the wall for the rest of us.

Have you heard about sea snot before? I hadn’t.

Also known as marine mucilage, sea snot is a green sludge caused by the overgrowth of algae as a result of a combination of water pollution and hot weather.

It was first reported in Turkey as far back as 2007. Nothing was done, according to local people, because the problem simply wasn’t obvious enough. It was mostly beneath the surface. Well, it’s obvious now.

Divers are reporting mass deaths of fish. Many other marine species are dying of suffocation. Corals and sponges are coated in this sticky stuff and there is an ugly brown froth floating up to the surface of the ocean.

Many fishermen are either restricted in their work or unable to work at all because this disgusting matter is clogging up their boat motors and destroying their nets.

And it’s basically all down to decades and decades of a complete disregard of, and abuse of the natural environment by people.

The dumping into the Marmara Sea of massive amounts of untreated sewage and other household and industrial waste from big cities like Istanbul along with rising temperatures is at the root of it.

The Turkish Marine Research organisation has now warned that this marine mucilage will continue to cause problems unless the government pours huge amounts of money into the vastly improved and highly sophisticated water treatment and purification processes which are now urgently needed to deal with the waste being pumped for example, out of Istanbul.

This is a natural crisis of gargantuan proportions with huge ramifications. One terrifying image showed several small fishing boats struggling to cut paths through the huge, heavy slick of sludge along the coastline to the clear sea beyond. The sludge is collecting in fishing nets and making them so heavy and difficult to handle, that they often break or are lost.

One fisherman, the fourth generation of his family to fish the Marmara Sea, said the problem has been severe for a decade or more. Yet, while people in his locality knew what was happening, nobody else cared, because the snot was not visible on the surface of the sea. He finds that there are less and less fish to catch every week because of the sludge. It takes much longer to pull nets from the sea because of the weight of that sludge. And that’s the fishing industry.

The cost to and the effect on, Turkey’s tourism sector is unimaginable. Would you spend your summer holidays on a coastline coated by grey sludge?

The Turkish government has pledged to fix the problem, promising that over the next three years pollution would be reduced, wastewater would be treated more effectively and the Sea of Marmara would become a protected zone. Well, watch this space for further updates and remember, this scary phenomenon is not necessarily going to be restricted to Turkey and Greece.

Ironically, it comes at a time when Netflix is broadcasting a documentary about the end of the world. Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet outlines and explains nine crucial planetary thresholds, all of which are outlined by the Swedish scientist and environmental science professor Johan Rockstrom.

If these boundaries are broken or exceeded, we are warned, life on Earth is no longer sustainable.

The programme is narrated by David Attenborough, but given what’s been happening in Turkey, I’m actually afraid to watch it. This is what is coming down the road to us if we don’t mend our ways. There are already warnings that this could happen in the English Channel. And given the lack of interest in or awareness of the natural environment amongst so many Irish people, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that eventually something similar could happen here. After all, we as a nation are far from averse to dumping black bags of rubbish in any laneway we can find, no matter how scenic the area. The rivers and streams flowing through many of our villages and towns are already suffocating in algae as a result of untreated sewage pouring in to them.

Just stand and look for a minute. The rubbish strewn on our beaches would make your heart drop. Look at the appalling mess left blowing around the streets of Dublin and Cork and Galway by socialising crowds who travelled specially into urban areas to enjoy the weekend sunshine by wreaking havoc and making messes. Not for a minute did they consider the gardaí who had to deal with their shenanigans or the businesspeople and local authority workers who had to come in and clean up their filth after them. 

They didn’t give a toss about the urban environment or what it ended up looking like thanks to their anti-social merry-making.

Meanwhile there are many others who will wax lyrical to you about how much they “love” the outdoors, and how they spend as much as possible of their leisure time hiking and appreciating nature.

At the same time these same nature lovers don’t think twice about leaving clots of used tissue, empty plastic water bottles, cans, and cardboard containers of “organic” salads blowing around hiking trails and beauty spots.

On top of all this, and thanks to Covid, many people are experiencing a desire to move permanently away from cities and towns to work remotely in what they perceive as the “clean” “healthy” countryside.

What this could mean is that already significant rural traffic levels take a big hike upwards while cash-strapped county councils are unable to deal with a significant increase in the amount of untreated household sewage being pumped into the sea along previously “clean,” “healthy “isolated spots along the coastline.

Oh, maybe I’m wrong. Am I wrong? I hope I’m wrong.

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