Jul 17, 2019 | Updated: 11:17 AM EDT

Greek Fishermen Are Netting More Garbage than Fish

Mar 31, 2019 11:03 PM EDT

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At 47, Dimitris Dalianis has never thought of himself as an eco-warrior. Like trawler captains the world over, fish has been his business. But after 30 years on the high seas the man has acquired a reputation for removing trash from the waters. "Bottles, cans, plastics, they're commonplace," he says, "I've seen dolphins and turtles out there and I know they ingest it. The sea can be cruel, it can make a man hard, but it feels good to know we are dealing with it and the crew likes the little bonus too."

Returning to land after a three- or four-day trip, Dimitris's onboard waste bin would usually be overflowing with garbage everything from plastic crates, plastic bottles and plastic sheeting to carpets and cans. The good news is; all of it will be taken to the warehouse laboratory for analysis and, if it can, be either recycled or upcycled.

Lefteris Arabakis, 24, belongs to a family of fishermen who go back five generations. Recruiting fishermen to rid Greek waters of rubbish is his brainchild; one that grew not only from his love for the ocean but a desire to re-energize fishing in a country where the sector is dying fast.  "In our two-and-a half-month pilot program 5,000 kilos of waste was collected from the sea, of which 84 percent was plastic," he explains. "In two years our hope is that with 100 boats we'll be clearing up ten tons of garbage a month".

Arabakis is already in partnership with a recycling group in the Netherlands that has created bracelets, socks, and carpets out of discarded nets. But he recognizes that even if he attains his monthly goal "it will be the equivalent of holding back global marine pollution by a minute".

In 2017, with backing from several Greek and foreign donors, including the Clinton Foundation, he co-founded Enaleia, a school that not only aims to augment the number of trained trawler captains and engineers but introduces sustainable ways of fishing to an older generation on Greek islands. The average age of the nation's estimated 35,000 fishermen was 64 last year, according to Greece's agriculture ministry. With fish stocks dropping by a third since the mid-1990s, sustainable fishing techniques have become ever more urgent.

Lefteris's father Vangelis, who is also a fish merchant at the market, believes it is people like his son who are positive voices in what are fast becoming ocean pools of plastic negativity. "I knew no better, I always threw stuff in the ocean, but he, like young people everywhere, has been educated differently," he says. "Yes, there is room for grief, the sadness of it all, but also happiness that a new generation is finally doing something about it."

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