Sat. Oct 16th, 2021

For a decade, marine biologist Nur Eda Topcu has been battling to conserve delicate corals along the Istanbul coastline, which environmentalists say are threatened by the dumping of industrial waste, fuel and sewage.

Now she’s afraid that a new threat could hasten the end of the sea from Marmara’s coral reefs. A gelatinous substance commonly known as sea urchin has suffocated aquatic life in recent months, caught fish and repelled swimmers.

Long brown streaks of the marine slime were still visible over the Marmara at the end of July, while the sticky foam sank below the surface and settled on the rare coral. Scientists warn that the sea, whose mixture of Mediterranean and Black Sea currents promotes coral, usually occurs at much deeper depths, is itself in danger.

“The death knells are ringing for the Marmara,” Topcu said after recently popping up to clear the slime that coral with fuchsia colors normally covers from an Istanbul archipelago. “We can not stop the slime. It suffocates the Gorgonians [and] infects it with harmful bacteria. She is afraid of most of Marmara’s soft, red Paramuricea clavata, which is listed as a vulnerable coral species, will perish this year.

Eda Eryalçın Topçu (right), marine biologist at the University of Istanbul, and Serço Ekşiyan, of the Marine Life Conservation Society during a research dive in the Marmara Sea south of Istanbul

Nur Eda Topcu, right, and Serco Eksiyan, of the Marine Life Conservation Center, during a research dive © Bradley Secker / FT

A thick layer of ladybug slime, also known as 'sea urchin', covers the surface of the Marmara Sea

A thick layer of sea slime covers the surface of the sea © Bradley Secker / FT

According to official statistics, factories have almost doubled the avalanche of wastewater they have poured into the Sea of ​​Turkey in recent years. According to a municipal monitor, the 50,000 tankers that pass through the Marmara each year dump waste and fuel illegally. Nearly two-thirds of the country’s industry, including an oil refinery, automakers, chemical plants and power stations, is concentrated in the region.

Most wastewater from Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, is treated only to remove solids and then pumped to the bottom of the sea. “We use it when we dig,” says Levent Artuz, a hydrobiologist at the Marmara Environmental Monitoring Project and author of a new book A recent history of the pollution of the sea of ​​Marmara.

The situation is not helped by the fact that sea temperatures in the Marmara have risen by an average of two degrees Celsius since the beginning of this century, as heat has been trapped by pollution, he said. A state project that diverted the Ergene River, one of the most toxic waterways in Europe, to the Marmara last year was ‘the turning point’.

‘The main problem is not mucus. It’s just a link in the chain of decades of decline, ‘Artuz said. “We have no chance of restoring the Sea of ​​Marmara as it was. What we need to do now is find out how we can prevent the Marmara from harming us. ”

Sea urchins and pollution can be seen in the Sea of ​​Marmara

Long brown streaks of marine mucus seen across the Marmara Sea in late July © Bradley Secker / FT

The borders of the Marmara Sea, which was hit hard by the 'sea snout'

Scientists and fishermen say the current flare-up is unprecedented © Bradley Secker / FT

In recent years, marine life has died in mass deaths, and there have been infections of jellyfish and algal blooms, such as red tide and slime.

But scientists and fishermen say the current flare-up is unprecedented. Phytoplankton thrive due to nutrient-rich sewage and fertilizers from agricultural runoff, while overfishing has wiped out populations of small fish and crustaceans that would digest the algae.

The mackerel, tuna, swordfish and other seafood for which Istanbul was famous are gone. This year’s decline was 90% lower than in 2020 because the slime clogged and pulled down nets, says Erdogan Kartal, head of the Istanbul Fisheries Cooperative. “Even if we can supply fish markets, customers do not buy out of disgust.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to crack down on polluters and “save our seas from this scourge”. Thousands of cubic meters of seawater have been vacuumed, the country’s environment minister said. In early July, he pronounced the Marmara “cleaner and bluer” than before.

Turkey is the only G20 country that has not ratified Paris’ agreement on climate change, and land movements to protect the environment are often seen by the government as provocateurs.

Authorities have refused to sign a new Green Party eager to fight climate change. Scientists also say that a planned shipping canal from the Black Sea to the Marmara could break down oxygen in the Marmara and promote hydrogen sulfur gas that would envelop Istanbul with the stench of rotten eggs. Erdogan’s transport minister argues that the cleaner water coming from the Black Sea will improve the quality of the Marmara.

Along the way, there were successes for Topcu and members of Istanbul’s Marine Life Conservation Society (MLCS). They secured a protected status in April for the small outcome of Neandros, which prevented boats from dropping anchors or catching fish near the coral. They transplanted fan-like yellow pupae for two summers to a nearby colony of the golden to Neandros Eunicella cavolini was buried in rubble of a government building project.

“We carried them like a heart or kidney for transplant, kept in cold water and in the dark to prevent shock,” said Serco Eskiyan of the MLCS. It took more than 100 dives to harvest and replant 300 corals 30 feet away.

Eda Eryalçın Topçu (left), marine biologist at the University of Istanbul, prepares her equipment for a research dive alongside Tavsan Adasi

Topcu, left, prepares her research equipment before diving into the Sea of ​​Marmara © Bradley Secker / FT

Eda Eryalçın Topçu, marine biologist at the University of Istanbul, shows a photo of a research dive next to Tavsan Adasi, in the Marmara Sea south of Istanbul, after repeatedly applying good bacteria to the coral, to combat the 'sea snout' that the ecosystem of the seabed is still dying

A photo of a dive. Sea urchins continue to kill seabed ecosystems, clogging corals © Bradley Secker / FT

But Eskiyan, who has been diving the waters off the islands since the 1970s and knows the area “like the rooms in my house”, could not detect the transplants in July, blinded by the sea urchin raising visibility to a meter or two. has reduced. “It looks like another planet,” Topcu said.

A generation ago, the rich fauna of the Marmara included seahorses, poisonous scorpionfish and great white sharks, but now Eskiyan still occasionally encounters a rare angler shark as he hunts for “ghost nets” left by industrial fishing boats that choke the coral. The MLCS has collected 32,000 square meters of gauze since 2015.

‘I have confidence in the sea’s ability to renew itself from the damage people are doing. But now I question how much longer it can fight back, ”said Topcu.

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