Wed 18 Jul, 2007 01:33 am
Mediterranean drowning in a hidden sea of plastic rubbish
By Elizabeth Nash in Madrid
Published: 18 July 2007
The Mediterranean suffers more pollution from discarded plastics than any other sea, especially the north-west sector that washes up on holiday resorts in Spain, France and Italy, an ecological study has found.
Around 6.5million tons of rubbish lie below the surface of the world's oceans. The highest concentration by far - including almost 2,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre - is in the Mediterranean, according to the study. It was carried out by Greenpeace, the environmental group, for the University of Exeter.
A separate Spanish study also predicts global warming will bring hurricanes to the Mediterranean, whipping usually tranquil waters into cyclones. This means the garbage may not remain on the sea bedfor long.
Most of the human rubbish in the seas consists of plastic containers and bags. "These present a serious environmental problem if you bear in mind that their average life, before they disintegrate, is around 450 years," said Sebastian Losada. A spokesman in Spain for Greenpeace's oceans campaign, he was speaking in Barcelona yesterday after the group'sRainbow Warrior docked in the Catalan capital. The ship has spent recent days in the Mediterranean gathering evidence.
The non-biodegradable pieces of rubbish that wash on to the beaches of southern Europe form only 15 per cent of the total. "Most of it we never see, since 70 per cent sits on the sea bed. And another 15 per cent floats suspended in the water," said Mario Rodriguez, Greenpeace's campaigns director.
Our perception that the Mediterranean is clean is false, campaigners say. "During the holiday season the beaches are cleaned constantly. But, if you stroll along a beach between September and May, you find plastic rubbish all over the place," Mr Rodriguez said.
Greenpeace's report Plastics Debris in the World's Oceans, produced last year, compiles all current data on the matter. Yesterday was the first time they focused on the Mediterranean. Marine detritus includes plastic bottles, golf balls, plates, knives, forks, toothbrushes, helmets, tubing, beach toys, condoms, syringes and fishing tackle. "It's clear we are drowning in a sea of plastics," Mr Rodriguez said.
Greenpeace says the pollution is due to the sea being enclosed, surrounded by industrialised countries, and with high levels of tourism and commercial traffic.
A recent study of the endangered loggerhead turtle off Spain's Mediterranean coast found that 75 per cent of them had swallowed plastic bags. Mr Rodriguez said: "We have to understand the sea is not a tip; it will constantly return to us what we throw in."
Plastic debris compounds an already serious pollution situation in the Mediterranean. According to Paul Johnston, of Greenpeace's science unit in the Marine Biology Department at Exeter University: "in addition to plastics, overfishing and industrial waste, the regulatory framework varies, so it's difficult to get action that goes beyond the lowest common denominator."
This is the hundredth anniversary year of the invention of phenolic Bakelite.
Joe(and the world became plasticized overnight)Nation
(Takes birthday cake out of convenient plastic protective cover)