The scientific community still has many untested hypotheses about the origin and fate of the sticky slime that occasionally floats in the Adriatic Sea, as well as its effect on marine life.
Some observers think the slime – a gigantic “sea water Jello” made of sugary molecules – is caused by pollution, but scientists aren’t so sure. Research at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is focusing on the contact between marine bacteria and even smaller particles known as marine microgels, which may interact differently in the Adriatic Sea than in other coastal regions.
Regardless, the slime has a big impact on some marine animals. We know that living bacteria, microscopic plants called phytoplankton, and microscropic animals called zooplankton live in the slime. The slime is very sticky and, similar to a sponge, traps organic debris and sediment, making it heavier. Eventually, the slime sinks to the bottom of the sea.
This has a strong negative effect on animals that live on the seafloor – such as sponges and sea anemones – since the slime clogs the organs they use to filter water. Other animals such as fishes, crabs, worms, and clams are in danger of “suffocating” because seafloor bacteria will eat the slime, using up a lot of the oxygen that the animals need to survive.
There is still a lot we need to learn about the slime in the Adriatic Sea. The slime has been observed for a few hundred years, so it is important that we understand how it fits in the region’s ecosystem.
-- Francesca Malfatti, marine biology graduate student