“Good riddance” could have been the phrase to see off 2020 after Turkey, like the rest of the world, grappled with the coronavirus outbreak. However, the pandemic lingered in 2021, a year with only more disasters in store for the country courtesy of the climate crisis.
Drought, for instance, made its presence more known across lakes, rivers and dams throughout the year, and it doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon as the country readies its plans in case the water shortage worsens. The country’s largest lakes, Van and Tuz, noticeably shrank, while images of boats on parched land made visible by receding waters were a common, tragic sight at dwindling bodies of water across the country. Environmentalists say climate change and aggressive farming methods have fueled the risk of water shortages, which surfaced in late 2020 as official data showed water levels at dams had fallen to record lows due to a lack of rainfall. In a speech in October, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan painted a gloomy picture based on data that indicated the country’s usable water supplies would keep shrinking. “Turkey is not a water-rich country,” he said. “This data shows that our water potential, which we are already not rich in, will fall more in coming years.”
The country was on alert after a lengthy winter dry spell prompted concerns of a water shortage, especially for the metropolis of Istanbul. The ensuing rains alleviated concerns, but the risk of future droughts lingers. As a precaution, authorities have readied several action plans, and Erdoğan assured the public in March that plans for water management have been laid out all the way up to 2071.
As the drought took hold, another water-related threat emerged in the Marmara Sea: “sea snot,” or marine mucilage. A phenomenon that had manifested itself to a limited extent in the past, sea snot made the headlines early in the summer, weeks after the first layer of the thick substance surfaced on the shores of the Marmara Sea. Within a few weeks, it expanded from Tekirdağ in the northwest to Bursa in the south of the sea. A product of microscopic algae called phytoplankton, which forms the base of marine and freshwater food chains, the mucus-like substance was the result of decades of pollution in the Marmara Sea. What made the situation worse, however, was another culprit: climate change. Mucilage is secreted in response to changes and anomalies in sea conditions, but it requires a stagnant sea and high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus to form. Mucilage, which is part of a natural process under normal conditions, can expand excessively when the weather gets warmer in the spring months in the right temperature and light. However, as in the case of the Marmara Sea, experts say the structure of the sea, heightened pollution and waste and global climate change are the main catalysts behind the extreme mucilage formation. In June, an intense cleaning campaign was launched in…