Ugly Bags of Mostly Water

RC SEIC Office
5 min readMar 29, 2024

Deniz C. Özbek, Kaan Çetin, Selin Öz, Serhat Türk, Önder Karata & Emre Sarıkaya

All life, as we know it, comes from water. The first cell and the first protein formed deep in the oceans. So did we; from the embryo, we floated in the safe waters of our mothers’ wombs. We cleansed ourselves with water, both from the disease and the sin. We conquered the ocean tops and discovered the wonders hidden at the bottom. It seemed endless, but it was not. We have long neglected our sources of water and their intricate ecosystems. We have left them to ruin, to get polluted… And now that things have turned ugly, we must ask ourselves what must be done, for it is a simple matter of fact that we are ugly bags of mostly water.

The Disruption of Environmental Harmony

Water pollution is an environmental issue that affects marine life. Occurring for many reasons; one reason is the chemical waste poured into water, such as the waste of ships, agricultural waste, or general chemicals that are used in daily life and then thrown away. In Istanbul, the increasing number of ships entering the Bosphorus leads to an increase in the amount of waste poured into the water and then carried to coastal areas by tides. These chemicals kill the living organisms within the sea, harming the underwater ecosystem. The most chemical-related pollution is caused by oil tanker ships, which often release some portion of their storage. Another reason for pollution in the Bosphorus is the rising level of temperatures, which have recorded 2.5˚C in the last 50 years. It is directly connected with overall climate change around the world. This impacts sea life by changing the adequate survival ranges of living things and creating mucilage problems on the top of the water, which blocks the sun and therefore the oxygen production rate, a necessity for most sea life. It looks aesthetically poor and is an indicator of the pollution level.

Image 1: Dead crab on the edge of the Bosphorus coast, taken by Deniz C. Özbek
Image 1: Dead crab on the edge of the Bosphorus coast, taken by Deniz C. Özbek

Echoes of Concern

When we questioned Istanbul residents about this matter, we came across a variety of viewpoints regarding the city’s waste management. When one of our interviewees, Rukiye K, 73, is asked how she feels the country’s waste management has been handled compared to her time as a young adult, she responds that even the town she grew up in has changed significantly and that inadequate waste management has resulted in a marked rise in pollution and environmental degradation. Asking her husband, 75-year-old Tahir K, an ex-shipman, about it, he added that in addition to the environmental degradation he occasionally witnesses in his village, he doesn’t think the laws are properly enforced among those in the industry. He mentioned that back in his day, those working in the shipping industry had to face certain repercussions, like being penalized with a certain amount of money, if they violated environmental regulations, such as disrupting regular ship checks or falsifying chemical substances that they were transporting across borders to avoid taxes and fees. The set penalty price is now outnumbered by inflation. The cost is unlikely to alter because it was established in compliance with international rules and agreements.

The Effects of Distressed Waters

Pollution disrupts the natural chain of life in the Bosphorus. While the lives of local sea animals are endangered due to the high levels of waste, we can observe that the pollution also creates a high level of contamination of the ground and air. According to the city observers of Istanbul, one of the dolphin species only found in Istanbul was frequently observed up until the 2010s, but, later, with the acceleration in pollution in the Bosphorus, they were rarely observed.

Image 2: Dead seagull in the pollution of Bosphorus, taken by Kaan Çetin

It is also important to mention the horrendous odor caused by high levels of pollution: there are records of neighborhoods being evacuated due to this particular issue. Back then, mucilage seemed to be the major problem; however, the root of the problem was graver. Phosphorus, drought conditions, and climate change. Its effects are widespread, affecting fishing industries, smothering sea life, and spreading bacteria and viruses.

Turning the Tide

Image 3: Pollution in the Bosphorus, taken by Kaan Çetin

Istanbul Water and Sewage Management (ISKI) is responsible for providing fresh water and operating the city’s sewage system. According to ISKI, 90 facilities around the city purify 6.207.365 cubic meters of water each day and for Istanbul, that means the problem is mostly related to the ships and increasing temperatures of the Bosphorus, not the sewage system. Therefore, the issue of water pollution in Istanbul demands immediate attention and action. With factors like chemical waste and rising temperatures accelerating the issue, urgent steps are needed to ensure a healthy marine ecosystem. Pollution in the Bosphorus is significantly disrupting the natural ecosystem, endangering the lives of local fish and dolphins due to high waste levels. Increased phosphorus, drought conditions, and climate change aggravate the issue and will result in a critical impact on marine life. Solutions such as actively treating the water before it circulates to the water mass are not applicable solutions to the rising problem of ship waste and temperature in Istanbul. With stricter laws and policies, as our interviewees mentioned, spillage from the ships must be regulated to be eco-friendly. Also, by monitoring the Bosphorus, crucial steps in regulating marine life must be taken for a more sustainable ecosystem. However, addressing this complex challenge requires collaboration between the government and the public. By recognizing the interconnectedness between human activities and environmental health, we can strive towards sustainable practices that ensure the long-term preservation of water resources for future generations.

Works Cited

Hüsne Altıok, et al. 2007–2008 Marmara Denizi Musilaj Oluşum Döneminde, İstanbul Boğazı Akıntısı Ile Gelen Kesikli Besin Tuzu Yüklerinin Değişimi. Feb. 2023, pp. 1–19, https://doi.org/10.26650/b/ls32.2023.002.01. Accessed 2 Mar. 2024.

“Haberdetay.” Haberler, haberler.itu.edu.tr/en/newsdetail/2021/06/22/10-solution-suggestions-from-itu-to-the-problem-of-mucilage. Accessed 2 Mar. 2024.

“Haberdetay.” Haberler, haberler.itu.edu.tr/en/newsdetail/2021/06/12/significant-support-from-itu-for-the-project-to-protect-the-bosphorus-from-ship-induced-pollution. Accessed 2 Mar. 2024.

Iski. “Atık Su Arıtma Tesisleri.” ISKI, iski.istanbul/kurumsal/iski-tesisleri/atik-su-aritma-tesisleri/. Accessed 2 Mar. 2024.

İSKİ Kronoloji, kronoloji.iski.istanbul/Home/Kronoloji. Accessed 2 Mar. 2024.

“10 Solutions to Combat Water Pollution.” Atlas Scientific, 3 Nov. 2022, atlas-scientific.com/blog/water-pollution-solutions/.

“Marmara Denizi’nde Tehlikeli Isınma.” Deniz Haber, 16 Dec. 2023, www.denizhaber.net/marmara-denizinde-tehlikeli-isinma-haber-115660.htm.

“Reduce Marine Water Pollution.” The Ocean Is Everybody’s Business, www.theoceaniseverybodysbusiness.org/take-action/reduce-marine-water-pollution/. Accessed 2 Mar. 2024.

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