SDG 14 | submarine life
Spain transfers to the sea about 120 tons of this waste per day that contaminate more than one million square kilometers of marine surface
On the right, San Pedro; to the left, San Juan and vice versa if you look towards the Bay of Biscay. This is the access channel to the port of Pasajes (Guipúzcoa), one of the most important in the Basque Country. Boats sail through its waters, a motorboat that unites these two neighborhoods and rowing up and down the pink and purple trawlers that face these two ‘saints’.
However, for a few years, this place, a bay that is protected by the Natura 2000 Network, has had some unexpected visitors. 250 cigarette butts, dozens of plastic bags, fifty plastic caps, cotton swabs and more than 20,000 microplastics. These are figures collected in just over a month by Mater, a Basque project to raise awareness of the importance of the environment and care for the environment.
“A minute later, a plastic truck is thrown into the sea,” explains Olaia García, head of the Museum at Mater Ontzi Museo Ekoaktiboa. Recently, CSIC researchers have found plastic remains in the muscles of sardines, anchovies and other fish.
A study by the NGO Oceana deciphered the origin of the garbage that reaches the seas and oceans around the world: “80% is generated on land,” highlights one of its investigations.
A conscious or unconscious contamination. “Threads and fibers are the most common microplastics,” reveals García. Precisely, these tiny pieces reach the sea waters, mostly from household washing machines.
Canal de Pasajes entrance from the Bay of Biscay. /
In September 2020, American scientists managed to roughly quantify the pollution of rivers and oceans: “5.6 million tons”. This is the amount of waste generated since we started using polyester and nylon clothing on a massive scale in the 1950s.
In fact, The Ocean Race Europe found that 86% of microplastics in seawater samples were fibers. “Technology already allows us to put a stop to it,” says Manuel Royo, director of marketing at Beko Iberia. The Turkish company, through its subsidiary Grundig, has launched a filter that traps up to 90% of the synthetic fibers released only during washing cycles. “It’s an open technology,” adds Royo. “This serves to safeguard our rivers, seas and oceans.”
the spanish hole
Spain transfers to the sea about 120 tons of this waste per day that contaminate more than one million square kilometers of marine surface. «Plastic is found as the majority waste in all environments of the Iberian Peninsula», coordinator of the Libera project.
Despite both private and public efforts, today only 9% of all the plastic we have produced and consumed to date globally has been recycled. To date, the final destination of this waste, 79%, continues to be the landfill or the environment.
An eternal journey, since when this material reaches the marine environment it takes dozens of years or even centuries to degrade. “It is difficult to estimate the time it takes for plastic to biodegrade in the oceans, but it is considered to be much slower than on land,” the ecologists reveal.
In 2020, five Galician researchers studied the presence of plastics in Cantabrian waters. “The Bay of Biscay is at a medium level in terms of contamination by this waste,” reveals the report.
Marine litter is worth the EU fishing fleet around €61.7 million each year
However, when plastics enter this zone, “they rarely leave it, which makes it a trapping region” due to the currents and winds that blow through the area. Only between 4 and 15% dispersed towards the Atlantic coast or exceeded French Brittany.
A very different situation in the Mediterranean that bathes the Spanish Levant, since “it accumulates only 1% of the world’s water and 7% of global microplastics,” warns the NGO WWF. The figures are alarming, since between 70,000 and 130,000 tons of microplastics.
Currently, some 700 species of marine organisms are affected by this type of pollution. In the Mediterranean Sea, plastic ingestion threatens 134 species (fish, sea turtles, mammals and birds). An impact on the fauna and also on the economy, since marine litter is worth around 61.7 million euros each year to the EU fishing fleet, due to the reduction in catches. “Now the boats have to go further to fish,” says García.
Impact on CO2
The new seas of plastic not only affect the food that reaches the plates. The incidence of marine litter is also responsible for CO2 emissions. A study carried out by CSIC researchers highlights that “the approximately 250,000 tons of plastic that are estimated to be floating in the sea release 23,600 tons of organic carbon every year that dissolves in the ocean.”
Marine waters not only regulate temperature, but “they are important CO2 sinks,” explains García. They absorb 25% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) and release 50% of the oxygen (O2). This dissolved organic carbon is mainly produced by phytoplankton that consume atmospheric CO2 for photosynthesis.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.