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Climate Change Is Going to Be Gross

CLIMATE CHANGE IS GOING TO BE GROSS

The thick layer of mucilage that covered the Sea of Marmara for weeks was an unsettling glimpse of climate change’s more oozy effects.

My first sight of it came one morning in June, as I rode the ferry through the Bosporus strait: a toxic glint on the sea’s surface. I initially thought it was oil, spilled from one of the many large container ships that pass through Istanbul via the Bosporus. Yet as we neared the glint, a sallow sludge marbled the water around the boat. In some areas, it was as thick and buoyant as fiberglass insulation. Its surface, coated with foamy bubbles and viscous puddles, was littered with balloons, bread crusts, and Styrofoam food containers.

It’s called marine mucilage, but the world knows it better as “sea snot,” thanks to the tsunami of stories that went viral when it overtook the Sea of Marmara in May. The internet marveled at the mess and moved on, but here in Istanbul, the sea snot hijacked the summer. Its unearthly, unavoidable presence closed down beaches and dominated conversations. For some of us, it was more profoundly unsettling.

This isn’t what I imagined global warming would look like. I was braced for bigger wildfires and rising seas; I wasn’t ready for sea snot. If the story of the Sea of Marmara in the summer of 2021 is a preview of what’s to come, the effects of climate change will be not only terrifyingly destructive but also weird, uncomfortable, and unbearably gross.

The marmara is a historic inland sea that connects the Black Sea with the Aegean via the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits. Along its shores, which are rimmed with ports, piers, summer houses, and factories, fishermen in wooden boats still haul in sea bass, mullet, and anchovies. But over the past decade, marine species such as bluefin tuna and swordfish have gone commercially extinct, populations of many other fish species have declined, and jellyfish have mobbed the coastline, all symptoms of an ailing ecosystem.


The thick layer of mucilage that covered the Sea of Marmara for weeks was an unsettling glimpse of climate change’s more oozy effects.
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