Blue Panda sets sail around Turkey to stem plastic tide

IZMIR, Turkey 

In its maiden year, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) ship ‘Blue Panda’ has been making stops at key ports in the Mediterranean with the hopes of stemming the tide of plastics choking the world’s natural environment.

Following Amsterdam and the French city of Nice, Izmir on Turkey’s Aegean coast was one of the first cities to sign a contract to be part of WWF’s Plastic Smart Cities initiative, which aims to motivate cities around the world to set targets to stem the flow of plastic waste in nature by 2030 by regulating laws on restaurants, businesses and citizens.

The Blue Panda’s crew told Anadolu Agency that they aim to forge agreements with local authorities and are hoping to add new cities to their Plastic Smart Cities network.

According to WWF data, the Mediterranean region is the world’s fourth-largest producer of plastic goods, and its residents and visitors generate 24 million tons of plastic waste per year.

Charles Desclercs, the Blue Panda’s captain, said he has seen a great deal of plastic pollution on the ship’s journey, which started in France.

“Among the cities we travelled to, we saw a lot of pollution between Sicily and Italy, and there was quite a lot of pollution between Sicily and Greece.

“When we reached the Sea of Marmara, especially the Bosphorus was highly polluted with plastics,” he said.

Desclercs stressed that even the most beautiful waters are scarred by plastic pollution.

“We anchored in the bay of Santa Manza [near the French island of Corsica] to dive,” he recalled.

“The water is wonderful over there. But when I put my snorkel on, it was terrible. There were millions of micro plastic pieces floating around, surrounding us.”

Fund data show that 0.57 million tons of plastic is being dumped into the Mediterranean every year, which is the equivalent of dumping 33,800 plastic bottles into the water every minute.

Almost half of the region’s total amount of mismanaged waste is attributable to Egypt, followed by Turkey, Italy, Algeria and Morocco, according to the WWF.

Marine life hurt by plastic pollution

Desclercs said during their journey, they have seen a lot of damage due to pollution, adding the harm plastics do to marine life is no exaggeration.

Yaz Guvendi, the Blue Panda’s spokesperson, said the WWF studied 178 whales during a month of research and biopsied 45 of them to check on their level of plastic contamination.

Before the Blue Panda started its voyage, the crew did research in the Pelagos Sanctuary, a protected marine area between Italy and France in the Mediterranean which is home to several cetacean (whale/porpoise/dolphin) species, including sperm, fin and pilot whales.

“When we were on our Pelagos mission, the scientists did biopsies on the whales.

“They have proof that plastic is actually in the fat of the whale, so the plastic is indurated in the skin of the whales, and it goes directly in the fat. It’s not just the stomach,” said Desclercs.

The reports show that globally, over 700 marine species, including sea mammals and birds, are impacted by plastic through ingestion, entanglement or habitat degradation.

‘Single-use plastics should be avoided’

Guvendi said the Blue Panda has done a lot to push authorities to take action and added that mayors of cities along their destinations have welcomed the group and are joining their fight against plastic consumption.

But despite the virtue of cleaning up plastic waste, Desclercs said that action should really be taken from the source, with the production of single-use plastics halted altogether.

“There are a lot of other NGOs that clean up beaches, but the WWF believes it’s better to act at the beginning, which is why they work with governments, restaurant owners and businesses within cities,” he said.

Mediterranean countries are taking some positive steps in banning single-use plastics, as recently dictated by the European Union’s single-use plastics directive, according to WWF reports.

“Coming to Izmir wasn’t in our plans,” said Guvendi.

“We were planning to stay in Istanbul and then travel to Kas [in Antalya, on the Turkish Mediterranean], which is a marine protected area where the WWF Turkey has worked for more than 15 years. But it was the municipality that wanted us in Izmir, and now the boat is open to visitors.

“In Kas, we’ll also have meetings with the mayor, and we’ll launch our new report about the WWF’s marine monitoring that started last year.

“This monitoring was also done five years ago and will show how marine-protected Kas affected the environment and how many invasive species came,” Guvendi added.

Monitoring of the marine life in Kas was done five years ago, and therefore it was a marine protected area, and this year, the monitoring was done again to compare it with five years ago.

After Turkey, the Blue Panda and its crew will travel to the North African countries of Tunisia and Morocco and will end their journey in France in November.

The WWF urges governments, industry and the public to take responsibility and jointly build an efficient circular economy model where unnecessary plastic is avoided and no plastic becomes waste.
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