BALIKESIR (Al Jazeera) – Omur Karisik has fished in Turkey’s Sea of Marmara since he was 15 years old, just as his father did before him.
But 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 he cannot see a way he can carry on.
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.
Environment Minister Murat Kurum promised over the next three years pollution would be reduced, wastewater would be treated more effectively, and the area would be granted protected status.
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.