avenir méditerranée  -  Save Our Seas, Inc.

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Dustbin Men of the Sea                       Dustbin Men of the Sea   -   No Plastic Planet Corsica


Grass Roots

The act of throwing what disturbs us while no one is looking is as old a practice as humankind itself. Sadly, the coastline is the reciprocal for manmade debris due to rain drain off, frequent tourist visitation and nautical and fishing activities. Society as a whole doesn’t realize the enormous impact that this ½ million meters a day production of garbage (Banque Mondiale) is having on our planet. Who is able to say how much of this material is ending up in the sea? And who is able to take the responsibility to deal with it accordingly?

If the beaches are supposedly cleaned, and if the quality of the bathing water is surveyed, then WHY the management of millions of tons of underwater rubbish constantly is overlooked? Because, unfortunately for us, THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA IS CONSIDERED CLEAN ONLY BECAUSE IT CAN’T BE SEEN. Every citizen of the world has the right to worry about the dangers presented by the production of 80 years worth of pollution constantly draining and/or dumped into the sea. Recently Francois Galgany (Ifremer 1998) made a campaign in the French Mediterranean and established that there is one piece of underwater rubbish every 10m2. The repercussion on underwater flora & fauna, and also the human body, due to the accumulation of such rubbish has been scientifically proven (Takahoma 1990, Nach 1992) and has shown serious consequences on the coastal ecosystem essential to the equilibrium of our planet.

Fortunately, the diving community and other well known ecological programs (Center for Marine Conservation) organizes an international 1 day a year clean-up along the underwater coastlines. However, 80 years of garbage production can’t possibly be cleaned up in just 1 day. That’s why in April 1996, I , along with a concerned group of sailor and divers, created a non-profit, volunteer association, Avenir  Mediterranee – Save Our Seas, devoted specifically to cleaning the bottom of the sea in the area where people spend holiday. For this to become a reality the cleaning process had to begin. How to clean in an ecological way was our next question. Trawling (dragging a net behind a boat) or the use of a vacuum system, two methods already in use for deep sea examination, would cause irriversable damage to the seabed. At this point, we found that the only ecological way to clean is to dive down and manually pick them up. Through this action the “Dustbin Men of the Sea” were born!

In April 1996, 4 divers, myself included, began cleaning the underwater bathing areas (300meters away from the beach and 5 meters deep) of Antibes/Juan les Pins, France. WE couldn’t imagine what we would find. We managed to remove, working 3 hours a day for 11 days more than 16,000 liters of plastic, cans, tires, fireworks systems, etc… However, we estimate this to be only about 5% of the total quantity we found. Also, this garbage was concentrated in the form of huge underwater dumps, probably due to underwater currents.

For the duration of 1996 until the sprint of 1997, we continued to work indifferent towns along the French Riviera involving the local professional dive community and to clean similar underwater dumps (50,000 liters removed). WE were also in touch with professionals (Comex, CNRS) to confirm our theory that underwater currents and waves do indeed play an active role in the production of underwater dumps found near the coastlines. At this point I realized that in order to begin to solve this problem the politicians would first have to know about it, recognize their responsibilities about it and act for it. So, I was in contact with everyone from the mayors of the town halls in the French Riviera to Michele Demessine, Minister of Tourism and Dominque Voynet, Minister of Environment in France, to try and address this problem and get some action. Knowing that tourism and the environment go hand in hand, I was aware that the image of garbage and tourism wouldn’t exactly do each other justice. Avenir Mediterranee took it upon itself to act. We had to begin a campaign of awareness as well as set the example.

We began being present at different environmental conventions and festival in France, and involving school children , local police departments and medias in all our actions. We also involved member and numerous world personalities concerned with our cause and the wellbeing of our planet.  (Cousteau Foundation ’98, Sir Peter Blake ’99, Alain Bombard ’97, Jean Louis Etienne ’97, Jean Alesi ’96, Umberto Pelizzari ’96,  and Eric Tabaraly ’97).

We soon realized that it was necessary to SHOCK people with the visual image of this ecological catastrophe and to urge the European Blue Flag to include in their criteria for beaches, the cleaning of the seabed as well. On April 15, 1997 (Antibes) and on July 22 (Cannes) in front of national and international media, Avenir  Mediterranee established 2 World Records of extraction of underwater debris, removing more than 7,000 liters of garbage (50 meters from the beach) with 5 divers in less than 2 hours total. However, it was still not enough to get the European Blue Flag involved because it was just a local cleaning. To be truly effective, this type of clean-up and awareness has to be organized on the whole Mediterranean coast. The idea of our “crusade of de-pollution” began t take shape at this moment.

Now our mission was to find a suitable boat able to bring our team across the Mediterranean, while at the same time promoting the sea with traditional sailing values. In January 1998, with the support of our members, our boat Pied Bouee, a 50 yrs classic Dundee, was purchased and voluntarily restored in Bretagne. Being that 1998 was declared the International Year of the Ocean (UNESCO), we knew we had to be present in Lisbon, Portugal for the Universal Exhibition dedicated specifically to the Oceans. Fortunately for us it was on our way back into the Mediterranean. Upon arriving in Lisbon we organized an action with Portuguese Medias to clean the marina of the Expo, but unfortunately we were denied entry by the authorities of the marina for our desire to exploits their garbage. Probably because showing underwater pollution in a marina flying the European Blue Flag, during the Universal Expo celebrating the sea, would not be considered politically correct. At this point our fight was not only to combat against the garbage, but also the mentally of unconcerned people.

We arrived back in the Mediterranean at the end of January 1999 with the idea to intensify our actions. For that Pied Bouee had to be prepared. We spent and additional 2 months to refinish and give to the boat a look that would make it, and our cause, more easily identifiable.

At present, April 1999, we were preparing our crusade in the Mediterranean from France to Cyprus following where the Blue Flag Awards were bestowed in 1998.

Our crusade will include 1. A campaign of awareness, 2. Mapping areas of debris accumulation and 3. Teaching divers how to become “Dustbin Men of the Sea.”

The Campaign of Awareness

At each stop, a clean-up will be organized with local diving teams in which video footage of the area will also be taken. At this time local politicians, scientists, industry and the public  will be invited to a public screening in which the garbage and the video will be the subject of debate. In addition to this, local school will be invited to participate in a beach clean-up and have the opportunity to meet and discuss with our divers the importance of NOT throwing your rubbish into the sea or anywhere that isn’t a proper bin.

The Map

First, by studying the relationship between debris location and how currents and waves work makes it possible to understand why such dumps occur. By using a glass bottom boat and diving to locate the dump in one area, and then using underwater current and wave sensors, it becomes possible to project where dumps are located in similar circumstances without having to search before hand.

Second, after locating a dump we are able to map the area using a GPS and an underwater camera.

Third, when debris is removed a report can be made to determine the density per m2 and show to local councils how much rubbish there is.

Finally, categorize it to show exactly what kind of material it is (plastic, metal, aluminum, netting, etc…), where it’s coming from and how long it’s estimated to have been down there.

The Job of the Dustbin Men of the Sea

By sharing our knowledge of how underwater currents and waves affect debris, we are able to teach divers where garbage is located in their area and how to map it. Thus, the creation of professional cleaners and a detailed report of what’s really happening underwater can be established.

At this point Avenir Mediterranee is recognized as THE association involved in the cleaning and awareness of underwater garbage. We have been in touch with the whole environmental hierarchy in France and Europe. We have the support of more than 3600 members, 20 world personalities and foundations, and have appeared on national and international Medias over 100 times. We have still received NO money from politics and remain an entirely volunteer association. Our objective will be achieved when the cleaning of the coastal seabed is included o the European Blue Flags’ list of criteria and will be considered as normal as the cleaning of our streets and forests.

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