Sea Snot Spectacle
kslee: Sea of Marmara, 2010 (CC)
In 1996 I caught a jack mackerel. It was my first fish. My uncle showed me how to catch it. We were sailing on Marmara Sea. The small boat moved to and fro as our flasher rig disappeared into crystalline waters. The rig contained ten small hooks decorated with baits. Ismet, my uncle, is a Turkman from the sealess Iraqi city of Kerkuk. He was ecstatic to be fishing after sunset, instructing me to cherish the moment: ‘This is the life!’
We returned triumphantly to our summer house’s wooden pier. Just before dinnertime, I carried buckets into the kitchen. Crickets began chirping as neighbouring houses sank into silence. Uncle Ismet started grilling mackerels. Seated around a small table, family members washed them down with rakı, Turkey’s national drink. Uncle Ismet offered a sip. I took a few, proceeding to mix the smoky drink with cold beer, which turned out to be a rookie mistake. Listening to Nirvana’s In Utero on our porch, my head started spinning.
These same waters once flowed into the heart of a civilization, inspiring poetry, paraded in paintings, feeding a cornucopian culinary culture. They are, for the most part, the reason why we live here. Marmara calms us in moments of anxiety. Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul’s greatest chronicler, wrote: ‘There’s not a problem that a walk by the Bosphorus can’t fix.’ When the meditation app Headspace reminds me, ‘just above the clouds, remember the blue sky is always there,’ I think of Marmara as a similarly reliable layer.
The memory from my youth remains vivid, and yet, a quarter of a century later, I realize that dining on freshly caught fish is becoming history. This May a thick layer of marine mucilage, popularly known as sea snot, started to take over Marmara. The gelatinous organic substance turned opaque this inland sea which connects the Aegean to the Black Sea, a visual sign announcing its marine life’s death. The superficial international media hype rattled locals for its treatment of mucilage primarily as a spectacle.