Fetid stinking slime of pathogenic "mucus", formed by the aggregation of decaying organic matter, bacteria, viruses and phytoplankton in warm water, are spreading across the Mediterranean and global oceans at an alarming rate. Rapidly warming sea surface temperatures are implicated.
We also investigated the relationship between climate change and the frequency of mucilage in the Mediterranean Sea over the last 200 years and found that the number of mucilage outbreaks increased almost exponentially in the last 20 years. The increasing frequency of mucilage outbreaks is closely associated with the temperature anomalies.
Mucus slime slicks, rich in pathogenic bacteria and viruses, stretching in the worst cases for over 100 miles, threaten the health of humans and marine organisms.
By Nat'l Geo FishOutofWater
Scientific examination of the "mucilage" has revealed that it isn't harmless decaying organic matter. It's full of potentially deadly E-Coli bacteria and a wide range of other pathogens.
By Roberto Danovaro FishOutofWater
This summer sea surface temperatures reached record highs for all three months. Warmer sea surface temperatures are causing the stratification of the water to increase, stabilizing the water, allowing the mucus blobs to come together and grow. Data show a strong correlation between warming water and the number of mucus blobs observed.
Mucus slime covered more than 2500 kilometers of Italy's coastline in March 2007.
The hypothesis of a link between mucilage formation and climate-driven temperature anomalies is suggested by the apparent progressive extension of the duration of this phenomenon. In the Adriatic Sea, for instance, marine aggregates generally appear from May to July and evolve into mucilage through the Summer (with a peak in August). Recently (i.e., in 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2008), mucilage has appeared much earlier (first recorded in November/December and January, depending upon the area). The Winter 2006–2007 was the warmest over the last 30 years, with average temperatures up to 2–3°C above the previous mean temperatures, and the spatial extent and persistence of mucilage reached unprecedented levels.
In March 2007, for instance, marine mucilage was seen to stretch along more than 2,500 km of the Italian coastline. Massive aggregates lasted, almost continuously, for more than five months. The last outbreaks have been reported in autumn of 2008. This tendency, however, needs to be monitored in the future for consistency.
The mucillage masses are a growing threat to marine and human health tied to climate change and the heating of the oceans.
If the mucilage phenomenon continuous to increase in frequency and duration, and to spread around the coastal areas of the Mediterranean Sea, an increased frequency and extension of some marine diseases may result with potential consequences to human health . In the past, the "Vibrio cholerae paradigm" has represented the first important example of the cascade effects of climate change on human health . Vibrio cholera, indeed, lives attached to the exoskeleton of marine copepods, which depend on phytoplankton blooms for their nutrition. These in turn are influenced by climate change . We propose mucilage as a potentially novel paradigm of the ecosystem alteration caused by the synergistic effect of climate change and misuse of marine resources. Mucilage on one hand represents symptomatic response of the marine ecosystem to direct and indirect anthropogenic impacts, and on the other a potentially expanding carrier of viruses and bacteria, including pathogenic forms that are harmful for the health of humans and marine organisms.