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Turkey's environmental disaster, a global lesson

Turkeys environmental disaster, a global lesson
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Turkey's environmental disaster, a global lesson

Highlights

Over the last six months, a huge mass of organic matter has bloomed over the surface of Turkey's Marmara Sea, south of Istanbul, boosted by global heating and an overload of pollutants including wastewater and pesticides

Over the last six months, a huge mass of organic matter has bloomed over the surface of Turkey's Marmara Sea, south of Istanbul, boosted by global heating and an overload of pollutants including wastewater and pesticides. This is yet another example of the rot unleashed by man on nature. The water has been taken over by a sticky web of "sea snot" caused by rising sea temperatures and ineffective waste management, and if something is not done soon there is no way one could carry on fishing in the sea. The current flare-up, which began in December, is the inland sea's largest recorded marine mucilage bloom and it is devastating the ecosystem, from the shores of Europe's most populous city, Istanbul, to the Aegean, a popular spot with holiday-makers.

Environmental experts say the slimy substance is the result of an overproduction of phytoplankton, caused by climate change and the dumping of household and industrial waste. Divers have observed mass fish deaths and say corals and sponges are fully coated in clumps of organic matter, often fatally, while ugly brown froth is being coughed up to the surface like phlegm from a diseased lung.

The phenomenon is a stark warning to the world – a glimpse into an imminent future if humans continue to push the planet's life support systems to the edge. In the resort town of Erdek to the south, which sits on a peninsula that has seen some of the worst visible effects of the mucilage explosion, fishermen such as Karisik say their livelihoods have all but been stalled for the last six months. The sludge collects in their nets making them so heavy they often break or get lost.

The ones that do make it back are frequently empty as the strings are coated making them visible to the fish. Karasik, 35, who has a family and a two-and-a-half-year-old child to support, said he is out at sea most days from 5pm to 5am, and yet he barely makes more money than it costs. Over the weekend, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to save the sea from the snot problem, blaming the outbreak on untreated water from cities, including opposition-run Istanbul.

However, according to those who live and work around the sea, the problem is not new and has been going largely unreported and untreated since 2007, although this is the worst it has been. The heavily industrialised sea has a special ecosystem because of being inland, yet untreated waste and agricultural runoff are poured straight in causing high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. Little effort has been made over the last few decades to reign in the creep of unsightly industrial facilities and concrete structures along the shores of a sea which is one of the smallest on Earth.

Successive governments and municipalities have failed to prioritise the environment and instead continued to dump their waste into the sea. But, then is it not true about our cities also? Governments often pay just lip sympathy to such causes because it does not really fetch them votes. Majority of the people are concerned about their immediate and daily livelihoods and raising their families. Long term impacts do not occupy centrestage in their lives.

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