World Oceans Day – A Death Sea Called Mediter­ranean

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While the United Na­tions iden­ti­fies 17 ma­jor re­gional seas in its plan­ning, the Mediter­ranean is per­haps the most dra­matic case as it has gone from be­ing the so-called cra­dle of civ­i­liza­tion to be a ceme­tery for thou­sands of asy­lum-seek­ers and mi­grants. And it is most prob­a­bly also the most pol­luted wa­ter basin the whole world. See this re­port.

The Mediter­ranean cov­ers a sur­face of 2,5 mil­lion square kilo­me­tres and is sur­rounded by 22 coun­tries, which to­gether share a coast­line of 46,000 kilo­me­tres, and are home to around 480 mil­lion peo­ple across three con­ti­nents: Africa, Asia and Europe.

But it is also a sort of a huge salty lake, be­ing a semi-en­closed sea with only two tiny points of con­tact with open oceans-the Suez Canal in the East and the Gi­bral­tar Straits in the West.

This im­plies that its waters need be­tween 80 years and 150 years to be re­newed as a re­sult of its con­tact with open oceans, ac­cord­ing to the Athens-based UN En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme’s Mediter­ranean Ac­tions Plan (UNEP/MAP).

In other words, a drop of pol­luted wa­ter re­mains there, cir­cu­lat­ing for a whole cen­tury on av­er­age.

Add to this that of its to­tal pop­u­la­tion, nearly 1 in 3 in­hab­i­tant–or over 160 mil­lion—are per­ma­nent res­i­dents in ur­ban cen­tres si­t­u­ated along its coasts. And that some 180 mil­lions tourists visit its shores an­nu­ally, this mak­ing a to­tal of some 340 mil­lion peo­ple con­cen­trated in the coastal area dur­ing the peak hol­i­day sea­sons.

Re­sult: mil­lions of peo­ple dump­ing in the Mediter­ranean their do­mes­tic and ur­ban solid and liq­uid wastes. The prob­lem be­comes more ev­i­dent if you con­sider that up to few years ago, over 40 per cent of coastal ur­ban cen­tres lacked sewage treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties, and 80 per cent of waste wa­ter was dis­posed off in the sea un­treated, ac­cord­ing to UNEP/MAP. 20.000 Tonnes of Petrol Per Year

Then come in­dus­trial ac­tiv­i­ties as a key source of pol­lu­tion, mainly from the chem­i­cal, petro-chem­i­cal and met­al­lurgy sec­tors. Just some ex­am­ples:

— Some 60 re­finer­ies dump into the sea nearly 20.000 tonnes of petrol/year;

— Chem­i­cal prod­ucts used in agri­cul­ture gen­er­ate runoffs con­tain­ing pes­ti­cides, ni­trates and phos­phates,

— Other in­dus­tries such as the treat­ment of wastes and sol­vent gen­er­a­tion, sur­face treat­ment of met­als, pro­duc­tion of paper, paints and plas­tics, dye­ing, print­ing and tan­ner­ies, bring more pol­lu­tion to the sea.

But the Mediter­ranean sea is also un­der pres­sure from in­tense mar­itime ac­tiv­i­ties: with 30 per cent of all in­ter­na­tional sea-borne trade by vol­ume orig­i­nat­ing from or di­rected to its ports or pass­ing through its waters, and nearly 25 per cent of the world’s sea-trans­ported oil tran­sit­ing it, mar­itime traf­fic and sea-based pol­lu­tion are among the key causes of pol­lu­tion of this sea. (IPS)

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