Image: Arne Diercks
The photo above looks like sand or grains of salt strewn on a blue surface, but it's not (heh, old grade school joke, I know). Or rather, its snot. Sea snot, actually.
Sea snot, or its fancy formal name "marine mucilage," is a basically a mix of dead planktons, mucus, slimy sea salps and their poop.
As the name implies, it's quite unpleasant - fishermen hate sea snot because it clogs their fishing net - and boy, wait till a bunch of them land on the beach and make a mess of it (and to make matters worse, sea snot can release pathogens hazardous to human health).
Marine biologist Serena Fonda Umani swam next to a giant blob of sea snot in
the Adriatic Sea in 1991 (Photo: Nino Caressa) - via National Geographic News
But not everybody hates sea snot - deep sea critters love it. Marine biologist Christine Huffard of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California told National Geographic, "In the past 24 years of this study, the past two years have been the biggest amounts of this detritus by far." And whenever sea snot blooms drift to the seafloor, activity of deep-sea life increased:
In March 2012, less than one percent of the seafloor beneath Station M was covered in dead sea salps. By July 1, more than 98 percent of it was covered in the decomposing organisms, according to the study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Blob of Sea snot off Italy's Numana Beach in summer 2004 (Photo: Roberto Danovaro) - via National Geographic News
Like them or not, expect more sea snot in the years to come. Scientists surmised that the explosion in sea snot is due to global warming and ocean acidification - two things that are likely to continue in the near future.