Everyone is aware of the pollution of our oceans from plastic debris, but it isn’t until you are at 20 metres down and a bin liner floats past that you realise the scale of the problem for marine life. Project AWARE and Dive Against Debris is one project aiming to reduce ocean debris.
Ocean Debris and the Impact on the Mediterranean Sea
Over time the debris in the sea has changed from tumbled glass and pieces of pottery to more invasive plastics. This transition was initially slow but over the last decade has escalated beyond belief. Every beach now has some evidence of ocean litter, even secluded beaches that have very few human visitors. It is thought that most plastics in the Mediterranean originate from Turkey and Spain with a 40% increase each year in the amounts found. It is one of the most polluted seas in the world with an estimated 250 billion micro-plastics circulating, more than is seen in the ‘plastic island’ in the Pacific Ocean. As it is almost totally enclosed with just the Suez Canal and the Strait of Gibraltar as entry and exit points, any plastics that enter the water circulate within the enclosed confines of the sea and have very little chance of finding their way out unless it is physically and intentionally removed.
The plastic floating around in the Mediterranean Sea can cause injury or suffocation to marine life including turtles and monk seals as well as entering the food chain. This can lead to even more threat to wildlife and ultimately humans.
READ MORE: OCEAN DEBRIS PHOTOGRAPHY PROJECT
Experiences of Ocean Debris on Gozo
“Every dive is a dive against debris” is the mantra of Bubbles Dive Centre in Marsalforn on the island of Gozo. We had dived in various places but it wasn’t until Booming Cave that the extent of the debris problem in the Mediterranean Sea became apparent. Rather than small pieces of plastic – a cup here, a bottle wrapper there, the cove that contains the entrance to Booming Cave was full of debris. Bottles, wrappers, coffee pods everything was there. In the 10 minutes of pottering along the reef on our deco safety stop and surfacing we managed to collect enough plastic to fill a net bag. This was just the tip of the problem. We could have spent the entire dive picking up debris and there would still be more.
I think until this point I hadn’t realised the extent of the problem. Most dives take place in flowing water where plastic debris does not stay. It passes by but isn’t there for most of the dive. Even a pristine looking sea has a dark secret below the surface. Most of the debris has travelled the seas ending up in still water and beaches, far from where it was used or entered the water. This sheltered cove was a collecting point for debris and made me realise what a massive task Project AWARE and Dive Against Debris really is.