The Academy of Oscars honors a Native American actress, 50 years after her banishment

NAXOS: On the Greek island of Naxos, the catch this November morning was plentiful. And yet, in the fillets, neither squid nor sea bream intended for the taverns that line up by the sea.

On the sun-drenched quay of this island in the Cyclades archipelago lies the environmental drama of the Aegean: tires, chairs, old cell phones, forks and spoons, CDs, soles, bath mat, broom.

Next to it, dozens of metal cans, scattered pieces of plastic, bottles galore, stained with slime.

Suddenly, between the fishing boats waddling in the port, emerge two divers trying with difficulty to pull up a skein of cables, ropes, sections of fishing nets and even old clothes.

In two days, “we extracted more than a ton of marine waste from the port”, grimaces George Sarelakos, co-founder and leader of the Greek NGO Aegean Rebreath.

“And in the other part of the port, it’s downright a real dump,” continues this 44-year-old technical diver.

For five years, the organization has been crisscrossing the Greek coasts to extract the waste that litters the bottom of this sea with crystal clear waters which attracts millions of holidaymakers every summer.

1,700 tires

After Zakynthos (or Zante) and Crete, the team stopped over in Naxos for the weekend. In two weeks, she will carry out a final mission in Corfu, another Greek tourist island in the Ionian Sea (west), before storing oxygen bottles and flippers for the winter.

In 75 “clean-up” operations, the approximately 300 volunteer divers of Aegean Rebreath have recovered more than 1,700 tires, 21 tons of abandoned or lost nets, 90,000 plastic bottles, not to mention hundreds of thousands of plastic bags, the one of the main underwater scourges.

At the entrance to the port, a small white chapel watches over the imposing boats which, in summer, take tourists around the string of surrounding islands. On a wooden boat, a fisherman, his skin scratched with wrinkles, meticulously cleans his net which he holds between his toes.

“Fishermen throw waste into the sea. They most often lack awareness of environmental issues, they are not aware of that”, laments one of the divers from Aegean Rebreath, Theodora Francis, 29, occupational therapist near Athens.

The mayor of Naxos, Dimitrios Lianos, also deplores the attitude of some islanders. Fishermen “live off the sea so they have to protect the marine environment, it’s their wealth!”

alarm call

For several years, the environmental protection NGO WWF has been sounding the alarm when the tourism sector represents a quarter of Greek GDP. “Some 25% of the production of plastic waste (in Greece) is due to the influx of tourists during the summer,” said Achilleas Plitharas, head of the plastic waste reduction program at WWF Greece.

Greece, which has a population around one sixth of that of France or Italy, produces some 700,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year, or 2.5% of the plastic waste produced by the countries around the Mediterranean, compared to 21.1% for Italy or 15.1% for France, according to a study by the NGO.

“Many measures taken in European directives are unfortunately not applied in Greece”, deplores the environmental expert. In markets or bakeries, plastic bags continue to be distributed. And plastic straws are not uncommon, although the EU has banned their sale for over a year.

However, since 2018 Greece has imposed a tax of 9 cents on plastic bags.

Magnitude of the problem

In Naxos, Theodora Francis squirms to take off her wetsuit after two hours scraping the bottom of the harbour. “We purposely stagger everything we bring up onto the dock. Only then can people gauge the extent of the problem,” she said.

And in fact, walkers stop to contemplate the extent of the damage. François (an assumed first name) and his partner Salomé, a French couple settled on the island, came to lend a hand to the NGO.

“It’s a shock to see all these cans”, laments the 32-year-old young woman, who put on a pair of gloves to sort out pieces of plastic and bits of metal, carefully listed by the NGO which maintains a database. on waste.

“There is a very diversified nature in Greece”, insists François. “We have to take care of it”.

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The Academy of Oscars honors a Native American actress, 50 years after her banishment