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Greek Divers Bringing Up More Waste From Sea Off Naxos

ATHENS – Greece’s seas look pretty indeed but in many spots below they are polluted with a range of junk and debris ranging from discarded plastic to old cables, ropes, fishing nets and old clothes.

In a feature, Agence France-Presse reported how a Greek diving team called Aegean Rebreath made up of marine conservationists, have worked for the last five years on cleaning up areas underneath popular tourist islands.

This time it’s off Naxos in the Cyclades, a major island that also lures foreign visitors because of its seas, where the tourists can’t see the problem lurking below the waters in which they swim.

They have brought up tires, chairs, mobile phones, cutlery, CDs, and a broom, alongside dozens of cans and bottles. “We have extracted more than a ton of marine waste from the port (in two days),” said George Sarelakos, the group’s co-founder and head.

“The other side of the harbor is a real dumping ground,” said Sarelakos, 44 about a problem that’s getting worse, AFP noting that in 2019, actor Leonardo DiCaprio said in an Instagram post that there were plastic bags, toilet seats and hundreds of discarded fishing nets “stuck to the seabed” of nearby Andros island.

With limited space on their small craft, fishermen also throw back any waste they catch in their nets said Aegean Rebreath volunteer diver Theodora Francis, because they don’t have the capacity to haul it away.

Fishermen “lack the awareness of environmental issues,” said Francis, 29, an occupational therapist based near Athens of their adding to the growing piles of waste on the sea bottom.

Naxos Mayor Dimitrios Lianos said fishermen should do more to “protect the marine environment because it is their livelihood,” instead of adding the chance they could be ruining what they do for a living.

“Many measures … in European (environmental) directives are unfortunately not applied in Greece,”Achilleas Plitharas, head of plastic waste reduction at the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Greece branch told the site.

Greece produces some 700,000 tons of plastic waste per year, according to a 2019 study by WWF which says a quarter of that is down to summer tourists.

The country accounts for 2.5 percent of Mediterranean basin plastic waste compared to 21.1 percent produced by Italy, and 15.1 percent by France, the study showed of the real problem.

“Some 25 percent of plastic waste generation (in Greece) is due to the influx of tourists during the summer,” Plitharas told AFP and a tax on plastic bags begun in 2018 has made no visible difference.

The Aegean Rebreath team made a weekend stop at Naxos after trips to Zakynthos and Heraklion, Crete, diving to depths of more than 40 meters (131 feet) where necessary and will go to Corfu before packing up their gear for the winter.

In 75 clean-up operations thus far, the group’s 300 or so volunteer divers have recovered 1,700 tires, 21 tons of fishing nets, 90,000 plastic bottles and giant sacks of plastic bags, one of the main contaminants.

“We purposely spread out on the dock everything we bring up. That’s the only way people can see the extent of the problem,” said Francis.

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