The seas are natural dumps whose vast amplitude diffuses its contamination, redoubled during the last decade by the plague of plastics. In order to stop this escalation, the expert scientists who fight it are demanding more campaigns to the Government to appeal to the conscience of the plastic and consumer entrepreneurs, and thus stop them from throwing waste into sewers, rivers and beaches.
"More prevention campaigns are necessary to influence the good management on the land of citizens and managers. It's fundamental. Search and locate the marine garbage is a huge and expensive task ", reasons Marisa Fernández, project coordinator Clean Atlantic of the Technological Center of the Sea (CETMAR). "The campaigns to avoid throwing anything down the toilet are essential for raising awareness", says Pedro Fernández, manager of the Mediterranean Action Plan of the UN Environment.
More than 200 experts in marine litter have met this week in Seville at the first international congress held in Spain on this subject to agree on the outputs to this environmental drama that attacks the biodiversity of the oceans. The photography of the scientists is turbid and at the same time hopeful. François Galgany, oceanographic biographer expert on marine waste for the European Commission, points out: "We will lose a lot of money for marine pollution, about 230 million, and that is a good reason for politicians to act."
The Government defends that to sensitize the population it has spread a decalogue citizen of good practices and that it promotes seminars of awareness and campaigns like Libera, together with Ecoembes. "You can not demonize the plastic sector", defends Marta Martínez-Gil, representative of the Ministry for the Ecological Transition in these days. The Government began its program of measures against marine litter in 2015 and until 2021 attacks various flanks: from fishing and maritime traffic to land-based sources, with strategies to promote the circular economy and the rule that prohibited the free plastic bags .
The Mediterranean is an almost closed sea subject to severe pressure, with a coastal population of 201 million inhabitants and 320 million tourists whose lightness on vacation increases the problem. And Spain launches an average of 30,085 tons of garbage, the third country behind Turkey (41,922 tons) and Italy (32,761 tons), according to a 2015 World Bank study. However, it is not just the sea surface, in the background marine of Sicily has recently beaten the record of garbage measured by scientists: 1.3 million elements per square kilometer, as published by the magazine Nature
"Today there are 2.500 million elements floating in the Mediterranean and 80% of sea turtles are affected by marine litter," says Mohammad Kayyal, head of the UN Environment Program for the Mediterranean. 80% of garbage comes from land and rivers are the main route of entry, although as 30% of the world's maritime traffic transits through the Mediterranean, this raid has consequences with the fishing fleet.
And if the Mediterranean side is affected by garbage thrown by people and the outlook is dark, industrial waste abounds on the North Atlantic coast and the situation is not much better. "The total abundance of the set of plastics probably increases, and within them the plastic fragments of less than 2.5 cm show an increasing trend in the time series (2013-2018)," reads the review of the scientific measurements of the Ministry for the Ecological Transition on marine litter on the beaches of Galicia and the Cantabrian coast, published last year.
The harmful effects of plastics on biodiversity are clear. "We have analyzed more than 3,300 chemical compounds associated with plastics and 60 of them produce harmful effects for the environment and human health. Some were banned in 2011 and 2013, but very similar compounds appeared with chlorine atoms that would be behaving in the same way, "says Ethel Eljarrat of the Center for Scientific Research (CSIC).
To minimize these effects, The plastic employers have promoted measures such as waterproofing their packages that contain raw materials, because when maritime accidents occur, often the material ends up being dumped directly on the waves and is a consumption pasture for large cetaceans. "In each puff a whale monopolizes 70,000 liters of water that can include 300 garbage", illustrates María Cristina Fossi, researcher at the University of Siena.
Operation Clean Sweep is a voluntary commitment signed by the partners of Plastics Europe, the European association of manufacturers of plastic raw materials, but who have subscribed less than half of the 4,000 transforming entrepreneurs in Spain. "Education must reach the kids and we have to raise the fines for users and companies. We are the second country that recycles more kilos per person, but also the one that throws the most landfill, "criticizes Ignacio Marco, general director of Plastics Europe.
However, aside from the government's efforts and the need for more campaigns so that the message resides in the citizenship, the main turnaround to pollution will come in 2021 with the European directive that will ban single-use products such as straws and ear swabs. 60% of the marine garbage in the seas is caused by these products, according to the measurements of the experts. "For years only some NGOs complained, there was not a social demand of draft. And little by little, that has changed, since the garbage was growing on the coast. The stomach of the seabirds analyzed had the equivalent of 50 grams of plastic in the stomach of people, an outrage, "says Galgany.
The congress brought together scientists but also politicians, businessmen from the sector, heads of NGOs, recyclers and related associations from 30 countries, all aware of the problem but with different rhythms for a solution that demands money and innovation from the plastic industry to minimize risks . "How are we? Pulling warm. Swabs, bags, fishing nets, cans, wet wipes, tires, everything. There are areas of concentration of microplastics in Almeria, the Balearic Islands and North Africa, "explains Estívaliz López-Samariego, from the Zero Waste Association. The objects that do not break until they become microplastics are spit out by the sea to the coast. The Spanish houses an average of 350 objects per 100 linear meters.
Zero Discharges collects that garbage before it reaches the coast and in just six months extracted two tons of waste from the Caleta de Vélez (Málaga). "Garbage is present in all the Spanish sea beds, where its accumulation obeys the canyons and valleys," confirms Jesús Gago, a researcher at the Oceanographic Institute from Vigo.
Outside the congress, Celia Ojeda, responsible for the consumption program for Greenpeace, provides critical insight: "The congress should ask supermarkets and major brands to stop relying on recycling and produce reusable packaging. That we can buy shampoo and fill the same container a thousand times. The European directive is courageous and fast, but it does not prohibit all single-use plastics, it only eliminates 10 objects. It does not talk about bottles, bags and overpacks for disposable foods. "
Antonio Márquez submerges twice a year to remove marine debris on the coasts along with another thousand divers at 30 points throughout Spain. Last year they took 17 tons of waste and this year the initiative has caught on in countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Peru, where other divers will clean their coasts on the same day as Spanish divers. "In Mallorca I saw the largest concentration of wipes, but there is everything: from cars to bottles and funeral urns," he says.
Tourist pressure is raging in the Balearic Islands. "I've seen a plastic island in Cabrera. And funds completely covered in plastic. At the biodiversity level, they are hot areas and we have eight cruises in Mallorca every day, "says Soledad Deudero, a researcher at the Oceanographic Institute, who is nevertheless positive about the future. "We must establish financing mechanisms to protect these marine territories. We are on the path of change, "he says.
The intention of the forum held in the Andalusian capital is to achieve a guide that appeals to all tourism, fishing and agricultural companies "that are part of the problem and the solution". "A Canarian hotelier is serving strawberries in his soft drinks and gives his customers extra packaging in the bags of picnics that are consumed on the beaches. We must not demonize the materials, but we must have responsible consumption, "exemplifies Pilar Zorzo, president of the Spanish Association of Marine Garbage, organizer of the event.
Zorzo tries to involve the municipalities to reduce the spills on the beaches, but often comes up against reluctance because they think that this battle is bad publicity for their municipality because it evidences the problem of pollution of the coast. "You have to change the speech so that it is not seen as an attack, but rather as a citizen initiative," he illustrates. And he appeals: "Even being a neighbor of Madrid, we can avoid throwing a cotton swab into the toilet so that it can then reach the sea," he adds.
Although European countries waste uncontrolled rubbish through their rivers and beaches, the work of international organizations such as the European Union and the UN focuses on raising awareness and building infrastructure for recycling in the Maghreb countries and Middle East. From the support to the governments to reduce or prohibit the plastic bags to new recycling plants or beaten on the beaches to clean them of garbage.