Marine Mucilage and Marine Snow (Marine Biology)

Marine Mucilage Definitions:
  • Marine snow - small amorphous aggregates with colloidal properties.
  • Marine Mucilage - coalescence of marine snow into large marine aggregates.
Marine Mucilage Background Information:
  • Marine snow is present in all oceans of the world.
  • Surface water warming can favour the coalescence of this marine snow into marine mucilage.
  • Marine mucilage characteristic of aquatic ecosystems with changed environmental conditions.
  • The phenomenon is causing increased concern around coastal areas as a result of socio-economical consequences.
  • The Adriatic Sea (esp. Northern portion) within the Mediterranean basin is the most severely affected by outbreaks of massive marine mucilage.
  • Research evidence suggests that spreading of mucilage in the Mediterranean Sea is linked to climate-driven sea surface warming.
Marine Mucilage History:
  • Mucilage was reported in the Adriatic Sea for the first time in 1729.
  • The original description mentioned the “dirty sea” phenomenon (“mare sporco”) as it caused the clogging up of fishing nets.
  • From this time there have been sporadic reports of the phenomenon.
  • Over the last 30 years, the reported frequency of this phenomenon appears to have increased markedly.
Marine Mucilage Composition:
  • Made of exopolymeric compounds with highly colloidal properties that are released by marine organisms.
  • Phytoplankton will exude photosyntetically-derived carbohydrates when placed in stressful conditions (i.e. P-limited diatoms which produce large amounts of polysaccharides, or death & decomposition of cell-wall debris).
  • Prokaryotes may not be able to digest these exopolymers leading to release and further accumulation.
Marine Mucilage Consequences:
  • The mucilage makes seawater areas unsuitable for bathing because of the bad smell & the adherence to the skin of bathers.
  • The life span of the mucilage may be up to 2-3 months on the water surface or column.
  • Marine mucilage once it has settled on the sea bottom, coats the sediments, & may extend for kilometers - producing hypoxic / anoxic conditions.
  • This may then cause suffocation of benthic (bottom-associated) organisms.
  • The mucilage can also act as major repository for prokaryotes (i.e.bacteraia & protozoa) & viruses with the potential health risks of this.
  • Fingerprinting techniques also show that the mucilage has increased bacterial diversity compared with the surrounding seawater.
  • Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) has identified Vibrio harveyi in from some marine mucilage deposits, but not in the surrounding seawater.
  • It is possible that the complex organic matrix of marine mucilage enables favourable microniches to develop which then support pathogen colonization & survival.

Sea "Mucus" Blobs Pose Threat (National Geographic):

Credits (Information & Images): PLoS ONE - Climate Change and the Potential Spreading of Marine Mucilage and Microbial Pathogens in the Mediterranean Sea. (cc)
Tags: Adriatic Sea - Exopolymeric Compound - Marine Biology - Marine Mucilage - Marine Snow - Mediterranean Sea - Microniche - Phytoplankton - Vibrio harveyi -

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