Washington, October 9 (ANI): A new study has indicated that as sea temperatures have risen in recent decades, enormous mucus-like sea blobs have begun forming more often, oozing into new regions, and lasting longer.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the study was conducted by Roberto Danovaro, director of the marine science department at the Polytechnic University of Marche in Italy.
Up to 124 miles (200 kilometers) long, the mucilages appear naturally, usually near Mediterranean coasts in summer.
A mucilage begins as "marine snow", clusters of mostly microscopic dead and living organic matter, including some life forms visible to the naked eye-small crustaceans such as shrimp and copepods, 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 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.
The season's warm weather makes seawater more stable, which facilitates the bonding of the organic matter that makes up the blobs.
Now, due to warmer temperatures, the mucilages are forming in winter too-and lasting for months.
Until now, the light-brown "mucus" was seen as mostly a nuisance, clogging fishing nets and covering swimmers with a sticky gel.
But, the new study found that Mediterranean mucilages harbor bacteria and viruses, including potentially deadly E. coli, according to Danovaro.
Those pathogens threaten human swimmers as well as fish and other sea creatures, according to the report.
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.
According to study leader Donavaro, "Now we see that the release of pathogens from the mucilage can be potentially problematic for human health."
People who swim through mucilage can also develop skin conditions such as dermatitis, he added.
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 noxious masses can also trap animals, coating their gills and suffocating them.
The biggest blobs can sink to the bottom, acting like a huge blanket that smothers life on the seafloor. (ANI)