Underwater Photography Contest and Exhibit Reveal 'Secret Life' in Turkey's Polluted Marmara Sea

Photos by Kerim Sabuncuoğlu (L) and Cenk Ceylanoğlu (R) show the life underneath the Marmara Sea.

Not so long ago, small fishing villages and clusters of holiday homes dotted the shores of the Sea of Marmara. After a few decades of rapid growth, however, what used to be a respite from Istanbul's urban sprawl has become an especially industrialized -- and polluted -- part of it. But a group of underwater photography aficionados are out to prove there's still life worth protecting in the down-on-its-luck sea.

"The cute little fishing towns of 30-40 years ago have been transformed into industrial towns. Factories have been built right next to the sea," Murat Demir, the head of the Turkish Natural and Environmental Conservation Association (DOĞADER), told the Hürriyet Daily News this summer, calling the Sea of Marmara a "cesspool."

Industrial Pollution Growing
Pollution from massive shipyards and factories, as well as insufficient water-treatment facilities, are causing biodiversity and fish populations in the sea to plummet, worrying fishermen as well as environmentalists. An OECD report in 2009 said that more than half of all industrial wastewater is discharged into the sea and nearby rivers without any treatment.

An underwater exhibit in an Istanbul pool as part of the Marmara Festival.

It was into these troubled waters that a group of underwater photographers dove last month, participating in a competitive shoot to bring back the best images as part of the 11th Marmara Festival.

Underwater Life Still Hanging On
"The aim of the festival is to attract attention to the pollution in the Marmara Sea, to create awareness in the society, and to present the underwater beauties of our country," organizers of the event wrote on their website. "It aims to introduce the secret life under the Marmara Sea and to demonstrate the unseen and the supposedly absent."

Prizes were awarded for general underwater photography and for the Marmara images shot during the festival. Thirty pictures were displayed on the bottom of a pool at the Divers' Club in Istanbul's Caddebostan district, where festival organizers taught children about photography, diving, and protecting the seas.

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Underwater Photography Contest and Exhibit Reveal 'Secret Life' in Turkey's Polluted Marmara Sea
The Marmara Sea near Istanbul is better known for heavy industry than a healthy ecosystem, but underwater photographers are diving in to show that sea life is still hanging on.

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