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LONDON: A mucus-like substance known as ‘sea snot’ covers coasts near Istanbul after covering huge areas of the Sea of Marmara, threatening marine life and prompting warnings that it could lead to deadly diseases in its wake.
The problem is particularly acute in the Gulf of Izmit, southeast of the city, with fishermen unable to work because they cannot operate motors or nets in the mud.
The brown, slimy substance is a mixture of fats, carbohydrates and proteins emitted by tiny phytoplankton, which multiply rapidly when chemical pollutants and sewage are pumped into the water.
It kills marine life by blocking vital sunlight and, when it sinks, covers the seabed and accelerates the decomposition of creatures.
The responsible phytoplankton grow out of control when nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are widely available in seawater. Rising sea temperatures compound the problem.
Divers have reported the deaths of large numbers of fish and say marine life has been forced to take refuge in small holes or other forms of water shelters.
Experts have also warned that the substance provides a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria, including cholera.
Istanbul has suffered from frequent cholera epidemics throughout its history. The most recent, in 1970, killed 50 people and infected thousands more.
Cholera typically strikes countries with poor sanitation and water hygiene infrastructure. Victims usually suffer from vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle fatigue.
Turkish Environment Minister Murat Kurum said a team of 300 people had been dispatched to tackle the “sea snot” problem.
However, the rapidly multiplying plankton quickly recovered from attempts to sweep it away.
Muharrem Balci, marine biology expert at Istanbul University, said: “A short term solution is very difficult, I would say impossible.
“The first thing to do is to reduce runoff and associated pollution, then international cooperation is needed for the improvement and protection of marine life in the ecosystems of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, which are connected to the Sea of Marmara through the Turkish Straits. “