In just over a week, a team of 45 people including 20 divers completed a massive beach cleanup on the Greek island of Ithaca, removing 76 tons of debris from the sea, coastline and four beaches in the island’s southwestern region.
The marine conservation organization Healthy Seas mobilized all its forces, together with partners Ghost Diving and Enaleia, engaging volunteers, local authorities and sponsors that wanted to restore the beauty of the area.
The project began on June 8, which marked World Oceans Day, and lasted until June 16.
A company that had gone bankrupt in 2012 had left behind fish farm cages and other equipment that polluted the area, endangering the local community, marine life and maritime traffic.
In September 2020, Ianos, a rare hurricane-like storm, caused the tons of industrial type of plastic pipes, fishing nets, nylon ropes, concrete blocks, plastic buoys, large rusty metal pieces and other waste to be carried away, later to be found floating on the surface of the sea, laying on the seabed and on the beaches.
“Thanks to the heroic efforts of the team and the support from our partners, we were able to accomplish the unfathomable, removing the abandoned fish farm piece-by-piece in just eight days,” Healthy Seas Director Veronika Mikos said.
“Locals were waiting for many years for someone to do something about this environmental catastrophe,” Mikos said. “We decided to take on an immense challenge, use our resources and expertise in order to help them.”
For eight days, 14 international volunteer technical divers from Ghost Diving worked to get rid of the rings, pipes and fishing nets while another team of surface volunteers tackled the beaches, some of which were knee deep in foam pellets that had through the years spilled out of the floats.
Local divers from Greece provided support to the cleanup operations, lifting smaller items from the seabed. Heavy metal structures that were found on the seabed were removed by commercial divers and a working barge.
The team recovered five tons of fishing nets, 32 tons of metal and 39 tons of plastic, including 150 bags full of polystyrene foam beads.
“We couldn’t believe our eyes. After shoveling the polystyrene foam beads into plastic bags for fivedays we realized that we needed another solution to leave the beach as clean as possible,” Mikos said. “Thankfully, we found an industrial vacuum cleaner which we refitted using a volunteer’s mesh bag as a filter.”
During the eight-day project, Healthy Seas hosted a public event at a main square in Ithaca to inform locals. Seventy five children took part in educational activities aiming at raising awareness about the “ghost fishing” phenomenon.
The entire endeavor was documented through photos and videos.
The nets that were recovered will first be cleaned and sorted and transported to a collection point near Athens. Most of these are type nylon6 and will be regenerated by Aquafil, together with other nylon waste, into ECONYL® yarn, the basis for many sustainable products such as socks, swimwear, activewear, accessories and carpets.
Other types of ghost nets were also recovered from the area and will be handed to Bracenet to upcycle into handmade products. Enaleia will facilitate the integration of the remaining marine plastics and scrap metals into the circular economy.
For more information about the project, visit the Healthy Seas website.
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