Mass tourism, excessive plastic use and poor waste management could turn the Mediterranean into a ‘sea of plastic,’ the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned.
In a new report, WWF said plastic pollution in the Mediterranean is threatening wildlife, economic activity and human health. The organisation urged government, industry and citizens to take immediate action to reduce the amount of plastic entering the sea. The report was released on Friday, coinciding with World Oceans Day.
Each day, an estimated 730 tonnes of plastic waste enter the Mediterranean Sea, The Guardian reports. A majority of the waste comes from Turkey and Spain, followed by Italy, Egypt and France.
Summer tourists – estimated at more than 200 million – cause a 40% increase in litter entering the Mediterranean, much of which is plastic, according to the WWF report. WWF leaders warned of the negative effects this is having on society and the environment.
“The impacts of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean are also being felt across the world and are causing serious harm both to nature and human health,” said John Tanzer, leader of WWF International’s oceans programme. “Worsening plastic pollution will threaten the Mediterranean’s global reputation for tourism and seafood, undermining the local communities who depend on these sectors for their livelihoods.”
After China, Europe is the world’s second largest producer of plastic. The continent generates 27 million tonnes of plastic waste per year, only a third of which is recycled. According to report, Europe dumps as much as 500,000 tonnes of macroplastics and 130,000 tonnes of microplastics in the sea each year.
“The birds, fish and turtles of the Mediterranean are choking on plastic,” said Tanya Steele, chief executive of WWF. “Our report also shows plastic is ending up in the fish and seafood we eat on holiday.”
The Mediterranean is home to nearly 25,000 plant and animal species, nearly two-thirds of which are unique to the region. Microplastics, debris less than five millimetres in length, can be eaten by fish or other marine animals, such as mussels and oysters, which are then consumed by humans.
The report warned that an average person in Europe who eats shellfish could consume up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic each year. However, it is currently unknown whether these plastic particles are harmful to humans.
“We’re asking people to think about how they can cut down on the amount of single-use plastic they use and throw away on holiday,” Steele added.
Steele said that to reduce their impact, holidaymakers should drink tap water when possible, decline plastic straws and avoid buying inflatable pool toys.
“We can all be part of the solution and not the problem,” she said.
Plastic pollution is of growing concern worldwide, with many countries and cities developing initiatives to reduce plastic waste. Last month, the European Commission unveiled a proposal to ban many single-use plastics in the EU. Environmentalists welcomed the proposal as a good first step towards cutting plastic pollution, but said further action was needed to adequately address the issue.