‘Swimming in plastic’: Greek fishermen fight pollution

Keratsini, Greece- The fish market of Keratsini, west of Athens, is abuzz in the early morning, with trawlers disgorging crates of sardines and anchovies as trucks await nearby to be loaded. But on his family’s fishing boat, Lefteris Arapakis sorts out a different sort of haul -- bottles, boots, plastic pipes and fishing nets, all dragged from the bed of the Aegean Sea. “We are swimming in plastic,” said Arapakis, whose family has fished for five generations. By 2050 “there will be more plastic than fish” in the sea, he warned, quoting recent reports. That morning’s plastic catch “weighs about 100 kilos (220 pounds),” said the 29-year-old economist and co-founder of Enaleia, an NGO that encourages fishermen to collect marine litter caught in their nets. Since its creation in 2018, it has worked with more than 1,200 fishermen in Greece to raise awareness about the degradation of the maritime environment. The seabed litter does not come only from Greece but from all over the Mediterranean, moving with the sea currents. Active in 42 ports throughout Greece, Enaleia provides fishermen with large bags of marine waste that they can deposit in dumpsters once back at port. For every kilo of plastic they deliver, they receive a small “symbolic” sum. 

The money is enough for a drink, said Arapakis, who was in Paris this week for global talks on limiting plastic pollution. Representatives of 175 nations are meeting at the UNESCO headquarters with the aim of making progress towards reaching an agreement by next year covering the entire plastics life cycle. Since October, fishing crews affiliated with Enaleia have dragged out 20 tons of plastic and old fishing equipment each month. Nearly 600 tons have been collected over the last five years, the NGO said. The collected plastic is transported to a recycling plant in the industrial area of Megara near Keratsini, to be turned into pellets to make new products such as socks, swimwear or furniture. A sixth is fishing nets, according to Emalia. 

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