Skip to comments.Giant, Mucus-Like Sea Blobs on the Rise, Pose Danger
Posted on 10/09/2009 7:36:14 AM PDT by BGHater
Beware of the blobthis time, it's for real.
As sea temperatures have risen in recent decades, enormous sheets of a mucus-like material have begun forming more often, oozing into new regions, and lasting longer, a new Mediterranean Sea study says (sea "mucus" blob pictures).
And the blobs may be more than just unpleasant.
Up to 124 miles (200 kilometers) long, the mucilages appear naturally, usually near Mediterranean coasts in summer. The season's warm weather makes seawater more stable, which facilitates the bonding of the organic matter that makes up the blobs (Mediterranean map).
Now, due to warmer temperatures, the mucilages are forming in winter tooand lasting for months.
Until now, the light-brown "mucus" was seen as mostly a nuisance, clogging fishing nets and covering swimmers with a sticky gelnewspapers from the 1800s show beach-goers holding their noses, according to study leader Roberto Danovaro, director of the marine science department at the Polytechnic University of Marche in Italy.
But the new study found that Mediterranean mucilages harbor bacteria and viruses, including potentially deadly E. coli, Danovaro said. Those pathogens threaten human swimmers as well as fish and other sea creatures, according to the report, published September 16 in the journal PloS One.
(Watch video of the mucus-like sea blobs.)
Blobs Born of "Marine Snow"
A mucilage begins as "marine snow": clusters of mostly microscopic dead and living organic matter, including some life-forms visible to the naked eyesmall crustaceans such as shrimp and copepods (copepod picture), for example.
Over time, the snow picks up other tiny hitchhikers, looking for a meal or safety in numbers, and may grow into a mucilage.
The blobs were first identified in 1729 in the Mediterranean, where they're most often seen. The sea's relative stillness and shallowness make the water column more stable, providing ideal conditions for mucilage formation.
For the new study, Danovaro and colleagues studied historical reports of mucilage in the Mediterranean from 1950 to 2008. Outbreaks, they discovered, were more likely when sea-surface temperatures were warmer than average.
Swimming Into "Mucus"
In 1991, Italian marine biologist Serena Fonda Umani swam alongside a mucilagethe mass is too dense to swim insidein the Adriatic Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean (Adriatic Sea map).
She remembers diving about 50 feet (15 meters) down when she got the sensation of a ghost floating over her"sort of an alien experience."
Umani, a co-author of the new study with Danovaro and Antonio Pusceddu, of the Polytechnic University of Marche, has also dived into marine snowthe mucilage's precursor.
She described it like swimming through a sugar solution. Out of the water, the dried "sugar" stiffened her hair and stuck to her wetsuit.
"The suit was impossible to wash totally, because it was covered by a layer of greenish slime," said Umani, of Italy's University of Trieste. "It was a nightmare."
Few people would purposely swim into a mucilage, said Farooq Azam, a marine microbiologist at the University of California's Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
"If you were not familiar with thisand especially if you were familiaryou wouldn't want to go near it," said Azam, who was not involved in the new study.
A giant odiferous blob drifting offshore is "certainly not the seascape that one goes to the beach [for]," Azam added.
Public Health Hazard
Eager to see if the blobs' side effects extend beyond ruined wetsuits, Umani and colleagues sampled coastal waters and mucilage from the Adriatic in 2007. The warm, shallow sea is like a "big bathtub," Scripps's Azam saidan ideal natural laboratory for studying the blobs.
The study team discovered that the blobs are hot spots for viruses and bacteria, including the deadly E. coli. Coastal communities regularly test for E. coli, and its presence is enough to close beaches to swimming.
Study leader Donavaro said, "Now we see that the release of pathogens from the mucilage can be potentially problematic" for human health.
(Related: "Beach Bacteria Warning: That Sand May Be Contaminated.")
People who swim through mucilage can also develop skin conditions such as dermatitis, he added.
Suffocated by Blobs
Fish and other marine animals that have no choice but to swim with mucilages are most vulnerable to their disease-carrying bacteria, which can kill even large fish, the study says.
The noxious masses can also trap animals, coating their gills and suffocating them, Danovaro said.
And the biggest blobs can sink to the bottom, acting like a huge blanket that smothers life on the seafloor.
Mucilages Going Global?
Mucilages aren't a concern for just the Mediterranean, Danovaro added. Recent studies tentatively suggest that mucus may be spreading throughout oceans from the North Sea (map) to Australia, perhaps because of rising temperatures, he said.
"It's a good example [of what will happen if] we don't do something to stop climate warming," Danovaro said. "There are consequences [if] we continue to deny the scientific evidence."
Beyond warm temperatures, it's still not exactly clear what drives the blobs' formation, Scripps' Azam pointed out. For instance, no one knows why the dead marine matter in the blobs doesn't decompose.
"It's important we do find out" what's driving the rise of the blobs, Azam said, "for the sake of the rest of the worlds' oceans."
Marine biologist Serena Fonda Umani approaches a blob of dead and living organic matter, called a mucilage, in the Adriatic Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean, in 1991.
As temperatures have risen in the Mediterranean in recent decades, mucilages have been forming more often and in more places, says a September 2009 study that also found harmful bacteria in the blobs.
Lol, Catastrophe ping
Giant boogers - as if I needed another reason to avoid the Riviera next year.
If I respond truthfully, ill get banned..
Helen Thomas picture time?
“I like to call myself MOCOS. Mexican or Chicano or Something.” - Paul Rodriguez
(mocos is spanish for mucus)
This thread needs an award!
Sure it wasn't Michael Moore or Rosie ODonnell enjoying a day at the beach?
Ok here goes.....
Lonely sperm whale perhaps??
Something in God’s creation probably eats this stuff. Just wait.
What is Escherichia coli?
Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) are a large and diverse group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make you sick. Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses. Still other kinds of E. coli are used as markers for water contaminationso you might hear about E. coli being found in drinking water, which are not themselves harmful, but indicate the water is contaminated. It does get a bit confusingeven to microbiologists.
ONZ, that’s terrible! Gunk in the ocean, who’da thunkit?
Sure it wasn't Michael Moore or Rosie ODonnell enjoying a day at the beach?
That's a terrible thing to say about giant, mucus-like sea blobs!
Blue whales hacking up loogies?
I’ll worry about them when they reach the Michigan state line. Then I’ll welcome our giant mucus like sea blob overlords.
don’t do it....I think I know where you are headed.
I’d call it sea snot and get a bunch of 5 year olds out there in dive suits to eat it.
In mean, what else do 5 year olds eat except boogers?
That’s it, go to your room. I didn’t know that whales had opposing thumbs.
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