Photos: Volunteers take on the plastic waste tide along Aegean coast

The Ionian island of Zakynthos is one of Greece's most pristine travel destinations, renowned for its azure waters and fabulous beaches, an environment clean enough to be a major Mediterranean nesting ground sought out by loggerhead sea turtles. But even here, plastic pollution poses a grave threat to wildlife. WWF has reported that Greece produces 700,000 tonnes of plastic per year, or 68 kilos per capita. Out of that, 11,500 tonnes end up in the sea, it said. With recycling facilities basic, one volunteer comprised organization, Aegean Rebreath, formed in 2017 to protect Aegean biodiversity from waste has been sending out divers to clear up the coast as best as they can.

Updated On Dec 03, 2019 12:07 PM IST
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Volunteer divers retrieve rusted shopping carts from the sea in the port of the Ionian island of Zakynthos. Dressed in her protective wetsuit and scuba gear, Antigone Kouteri jumped into the murky waters of Zakynthos harbour in search of plastics -- and promptly snagged her arm on a submerged object. “It was a tyre,” offered her patrol mate Efthymis, coming up with a discarded beer bottle. “My treat!” he jibed. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)
Updated on Dec 03, 2019 12:07 PM IST

Volunteer divers retrieve rusted shopping carts from the sea in the port of the Ionian island of Zakynthos. Dressed in her protective wetsuit and scuba gear, Antigone Kouteri jumped into the murky waters of Zakynthos harbour in search of plastics -- and promptly snagged her arm on a submerged object. “It was a tyre,” offered her patrol mate Efthymis, coming up with a discarded beer bottle. “My treat!” he jibed. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)

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Kouteri is one of nearly a dozen volunteers from Aegean Rebreath, a Greek organisation formed in 2017 to protect Aegean biodiversity from waste. Within three hours, the team had collected four tyres, two shopping carts, a street lamp, metal boxes, plastic bags, dozens of plastic bottles and several kilometres of fishing line. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)
Updated on Dec 03, 2019 12:07 PM IST

Kouteri is one of nearly a dozen volunteers from Aegean Rebreath, a Greek organisation formed in 2017 to protect Aegean biodiversity from waste. Within three hours, the team had collected four tyres, two shopping carts, a street lamp, metal boxes, plastic bags, dozens of plastic bottles and several kilometres of fishing line. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)

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With a coastline of some 14,000 kilometres, one of the longest in the southeastern Mediterranean, Greece attracts tens of millions of tourists every year. It’s a regional problem. The Mediterranean, a partly closed sea, accumulates 570,000 tonnes of plastic annually from surrounding countries, according to the World Wildlife Fund. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)
Updated on Dec 03, 2019 12:07 PM IST

With a coastline of some 14,000 kilometres, one of the longest in the southeastern Mediterranean, Greece attracts tens of millions of tourists every year. It’s a regional problem. The Mediterranean, a partly closed sea, accumulates 570,000 tonnes of plastic annually from surrounding countries, according to the World Wildlife Fund. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)

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WWF has reported that Greece produces 700,000 tonnes of plastic per year, or 68 kilos per capita. Out of that, 11,500 tonnes end up in the sea, it said. “There is a junkyard beneath the blue waters,” says Violetta Walczyk, a Greek-Polish lawyer active with Aegean Rebreath. On the Cycladic island of Andros, mounds of waste from a 2011 hilltop landfill collapse are still to be found in the sea below. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)
Updated on Dec 03, 2019 12:07 PM IST

WWF has reported that Greece produces 700,000 tonnes of plastic per year, or 68 kilos per capita. Out of that, 11,500 tonnes end up in the sea, it said. “There is a junkyard beneath the blue waters,” says Violetta Walczyk, a Greek-Polish lawyer active with Aegean Rebreath. On the Cycladic island of Andros, mounds of waste from a 2011 hilltop landfill collapse are still to be found in the sea below. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)

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In its two years of operation, Aegean Rebreath has amassed 9,000 plastic water bottles, 3,6 tonnes of fishing net and 289 tyres. The government readily admits that nearly 40 tonnes of plastic waste end up in Greek seas every day. It recently started a campaign to phase out single-use plastics such as cups and straws -- no small feat in a country with a huge coffee-to-go market. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)
Updated on Dec 03, 2019 12:07 PM IST

In its two years of operation, Aegean Rebreath has amassed 9,000 plastic water bottles, 3,6 tonnes of fishing net and 289 tyres. The government readily admits that nearly 40 tonnes of plastic waste end up in Greek seas every day. It recently started a campaign to phase out single-use plastics such as cups and straws -- no small feat in a country with a huge coffee-to-go market. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)

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Tourists look at the waste collected from the sea during a cleaning operation by the Aegean Rebreath Greek organisation's volunteers. Speaking to AFP last month, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that marine protection was a “key priority” for a country so dependent on tourism. Greece continues to pay millions of euros in fines to the European Commission concerning the operation of illegal landfills. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)
Updated on Dec 03, 2019 12:07 PM IST

Tourists look at the waste collected from the sea during a cleaning operation by the Aegean Rebreath Greek organisation's volunteers. Speaking to AFP last month, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that marine protection was a “key priority” for a country so dependent on tourism. Greece continues to pay millions of euros in fines to the European Commission concerning the operation of illegal landfills. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)

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Volunteers clean the shore from plastic waste during a cleaning operation at the port of the Ionian island of Zakynthos. But recycling efforts are still basic. Greece last year eliminated free supermarket bags, long after other European countries. “Recycling in Greece is a joke,” snorts George Sarelakos, the co-founder of Aegean Rebreath. “Every municipality has its own policy, there is no central strategy,” he told AFP. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)
Updated on Dec 03, 2019 12:07 PM IST

Volunteers clean the shore from plastic waste during a cleaning operation at the port of the Ionian island of Zakynthos. But recycling efforts are still basic. Greece last year eliminated free supermarket bags, long after other European countries. “Recycling in Greece is a joke,” snorts George Sarelakos, the co-founder of Aegean Rebreath. “Every municipality has its own policy, there is no central strategy,” he told AFP. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)

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A biologist checks for pollution is in the sea species at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research near Athens. “Marine litter is a global issue, so it is (present) in Greece. More than 70% of marine litter is plastic in Greece,” said Katerina Tsagari, a biologist at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)
Updated on Dec 03, 2019 12:07 PM IST

A biologist checks for pollution is in the sea species at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research near Athens. “Marine litter is a global issue, so it is (present) in Greece. More than 70% of marine litter is plastic in Greece,” said Katerina Tsagari, a biologist at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)

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A biologist looks at microplastics found in sea species at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research. Tsagari said her team has found litter, most of it plastic, in about 75% of loggerhead sea turtles tested. Overall, they have found plastic ingestion in between 20 and 45% of species tested, which include fish and mussels. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)
Updated on Dec 03, 2019 12:07 PM IST

A biologist looks at microplastics found in sea species at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research. Tsagari said her team has found litter, most of it plastic, in about 75% of loggerhead sea turtles tested. Overall, they have found plastic ingestion in between 20 and 45% of species tested, which include fish and mussels. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)

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A newly-wed couple looks at rubbish collected from the sea by volunteers. George Triantafyllou, the HCMR’s head of research, says the institute is coordinating a European project, Claim, across 13 EU countries in addition to Tunisia and Lebanon to eliminate microplastics. The project includes developing photocatalytic technology to accelerate the degradation of microplastics in seas and rivers, he noted. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)
Updated on Dec 03, 2019 12:07 PM IST

A newly-wed couple looks at rubbish collected from the sea by volunteers. George Triantafyllou, the HCMR’s head of research, says the institute is coordinating a European project, Claim, across 13 EU countries in addition to Tunisia and Lebanon to eliminate microplastics. The project includes developing photocatalytic technology to accelerate the degradation of microplastics in seas and rivers, he noted. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)

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Volunteers register the type of waste retrieved from the sea, during a cleaning operation. The HCMR has also helped develop a floating litter-collection barrier that is currently deployed at the mouth of Kifissos river in Athens. “I believe everybody should change habits. We don’t have to use plastics in our everyday life,” said George Triantaphyllidis. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)
Updated on Dec 03, 2019 12:07 PM IST

Volunteers register the type of waste retrieved from the sea, during a cleaning operation. The HCMR has also helped develop a floating litter-collection barrier that is currently deployed at the mouth of Kifissos river in Athens. “I believe everybody should change habits. We don’t have to use plastics in our everyday life,” said George Triantaphyllidis. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP)

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