Turkish authorities on Sunday announced a 22-point action plan to clear a recent surge in mucilage, also known as sea snot, covering the surface of parts of the Sea of Marmara in the country's northwest.
"As part of the emergency response, as of June 8, 2021, efforts will be launched to completely clean the mucilage in the Marmara Sea with scientific-based methods on a 24/7 basis," Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum told reporters after a meeting with senior officials from provinces on the Marmara Sea coast.
"On Tuesday, June 8, we will conduct the largest sea-cleaning (effort) in Turkey with a consciousness of mobilization together with all our institutions, municipalities, nature lovers, athletes, artists and citizens," said Kurum.
Before attending the closed-door Marmara Sea Action Plan Coordination meeting in the northwestern Kocaeli province, the minister had examined research efforts on how to deal with the overgrowth of microscopic algae that has formed a mucus-like slimy layer caused by an increase in seawater temperature due to global warming, stillness at sea, and pollution.
During the event, Kurum announced that the government would form a "coordination board" that would include the Environment and Urbanization Ministry, universities, chambers of industry non-governmental organizations, and other relevant institutions and organizations to reduce pollution and monitor the Marmara region.
"A scientific and technical council will be established under the Marmara Municipalities Union," he said, adding that the board would be formed as of next week.
He also revealed that an integrated strategic plan for the Sea of Marmara would be prepared within three months as a framework for efforts to be conducted.
"We will launch efforts to designate the entire Sea of Marmara as a protected area," said Kurum, adding that the 4,382 square mile body of water would be brought under protection by the end of the year, which would also help conserve its biological diversity.
Surface cleaning boats have already started cleaning in almost all points of the sea, he underlined.
Wastewater treatment plants
As another part of the mucilage cleanup campaign, existing wastewater treatment plants in the region will be converted into advanced biological treatment facilities, Kurum said.
Underscoring that officials would also work to ensure that wastewater is not discharged into the Marmara Sea without first undergoing advanced biological treatment, he noted that 53% of wastewater in the Marmara region goes through preliminary treatment, while 42% is subject to advanced biological treatment and 5% to biological treatment.
"According to our scientists, if we reduce the amount of nitrogen by 40%, we'll have solved the root of this problem. In the next three years, all our provinces in the Marmara region will complete their work on converting wastewater treatment plants," he said.
Vowing to support local administrations in all areas including technically and financially, Kurum said these decisions would "accelerate the improvement in the water quality of the Marmara Sea" by minimizing and controlling nitrogen and phosphorus that causes mucilage and other types of pollution.
He also said wastewater discharge standards and regulations would be updated and implemented within three months.
Wastewater reuse, discharge prevention
The plan will also entail supporting the expanded reuse of treated wastewater wherever possible and the application of clean production techniques, said Kurum.
He underlined that the water resources of the entire world, not only Turkey has been impacted by climate change, making the recovery of treated wastewater of the utmost importance.
The aim is to increase the rate of treated and reused wastewater in the country, which is currently 3.2%, to 5% by 2023 and 15% by 2030, he said.
"Arrangements will be made within three months to prevent the discharge of wastewater from ships into the Marmara Sea. Currently, they already aren't allowed to dump (wastewater) into the sea without treatment," Kurum said, adding that vessels entering the sea would be made to give up their refuse to waste reception boats or facilities.
"In this context, together with our local administrations, we'll strictly monitor ships. We'll increase our inspections."
Digital twin of Marmara Sea
Kurum also emphasized that authorities would make clean production techniques more widespread in shipyards, preventing possible marine pollution with more environmentally friendly practices.
The number of facilities monitoring wastewater treatment plants along the Marmara coast will be increased to 150 from the current 91, with 24/7 supervision by Turkey's environment agency to be expanded using remote sensing, satellite and early warning systems, unmanned aerial vehicles and radar systems, he said.
The ministry will also develop a "digital twin" of the Sea of Marmara that will involve a large amount of data from meteorology to pollution loads via 3D modeling, added Kurum.
"We'll view details on all the pollution sources and densities in the Marmara [region]. We'll monitor changes in these regions in real time. No matter where, we'll intervene in pollution instantly.
"We will also have attained the capacity for early intervention in the event of potential negative scenarios in the Sea of Marmara in the future, not just today," he added.
Pointing out that 90% of solid marine waste and garbage comes from the land, Kurum said that in a year, all of Turkey's provinces and districts on the Marmara coast would transition to zero-waste practices.
"We will collect our waste on the land, decompose it, and contribute to our economy and employment," he said.
He added that by also making good and organic farming practices, as well as pressure and drip irrigation systems, more prevalent, "we will reduce the amount of water used in irrigation and prevent pollution from reaching the Sea of Marmara via streams."
Organic cleaning products, ghost nets
During his speech, the environment minister also underlined the importance of preventing pollution from reaching the sea by creating artificial wetlands and buffer zones in basins linked to the Marmara Sea.
"For this purpose, we'll make technological transformations to reduce wastewater mandatory," he said, adding that the government, starting with municipalities and individual institutions, will gradually reduce the use of all harmful substances in urban sanitation that damage human health and flow into the Marmara Sea.
"First, we will identify and start using organic cleaning products in our institutions. As a ministry, we will provide the necessary financial support."
"All ghost nets in our Marmara Sea will be cleaned by our Agriculture and Forestry Ministry within a year," added Kurum, pledging to ensure that fishing activities are conducted in an ecosystem-based fashion and protected areas are developed.
He also vowed that his ministry, upon the instruction of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, would provide the necessary economic support to fishermen negatively impacted due to the mucilage.
Impact of hot waters
On the causes of the rise in sea snot, Kurum said that waters in the Sea of Marmara were one degree Celsius warmer than that of other seas.
"We will take measures to reduce the impact of hot waters, consisting of cooling waters and thermal facilities on the Marmara Sea," he said.
“We will carry our Marmara Sea into the future in its purest form, protecting a thousand-and-one of species of fish and living things," Kurum added./aa