The Mediterranean Sea, which can be considered the daughter of the Atlantic Ocean, was born five million years ago when ocean waters breached the Strait of Gibraltar, creating the biggest natural flood in the history of the planet. The Atlantic transformed what was formerly a gigantic salt desert into a body of water that has a great deal of marine life but is also very vulnerable to the impact of human activities due to its isolation. In fact, the name Mediterranean means ‘sea surrounded by land’.
Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) is the birthplace of our civilization but has become one of the world’s most endangered and polluted seas. It is a dying sea into which 69 rivers including the Nile, the Danube and the Rhône carry the industrial, household and farm waste of a large part of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, including the most highly populated urban areas on the planet. Extreme pollution, overfishing, poaching and growing maritime traffic (25% of all international maritime traffic and 30% of all oil traffic in a sea that represents only 1% of the Earth’s total water surface area) have made it the world’s most dangerous sea for marine mammals.
And yet the Mediterranean Sea clings to life. It is still a global hotspot for marine biodiversity—nearly a quarter of all known cetacean species are found there. It is home to some 250,000 striped dolphins and between 2,000 and 3,000 humpback whales.
Sea Shepherd has decided to lend a helping hand to this sea, which is struggling to stay alive.
Lamya Essemlali, President of Sea Shepherd France, is bringing out the small fleet of the organization’s French branch, which saved many pilot whales last year in the Faroe Islands (Europe’s biggest massacre of marine mammals).
This time, the enemy is sneakier, more insidious and even more destructive than the whale hunters in the Faroe Islands. The plastic waste in our seas and oceans is directly responsible for the deaths of millions of birds and fish and tens of thousands of marine mammals worldwide.
This plastic waste in the sea is diluted and comes from a range of sources including businesses, individuals and communities. We are all responsible. And so we all have a role to play.
In addition to cleaning up this plastic waste, Operation Mare Nostrum aims to rid the sea of ghost fishing equipment: nets, hooks and traps that have been abandoned or lost in the sea but continue to kill indiscriminately without being recovered by anyone for decades.
The initial fleet will be composed of Thor and Loki, two high-speed aluminum vessels, and Columbus, Sea Shepherd’s ambassador ship, which is being chartered from seaman Jean-Yves Terlain. In this one-of-a-kind itinerant project, a team of around 20 people with different backgrounds and profiles will work in shifts all summer long with occasional assistance from experienced divers in the various regions targeted.
Clean-up will begin in Marseille and then move on to the Italian coast, the Spanish coast, and Corsica. All of the plastic waste recovered will be reused in Sea Shepherd’s Vortex Project.
While these clean-up efforts are underway, sea excursions on board Columbus will be offered to children, especially those from the disadvantaged northern districts of Marseille. The goal is for them to learn more about the sea—both its beauty (marine life) and the less glamorous aspects (the impact manmade pollution is having on this precious and fragile life).
No need to go to the ends of the Earth to see whales or dolphins. They’re right here, in Our Sea. But they could disappear before we have the chance to really know them. We still have time to take action, but can no longer afford to wait.
‘The campaign will end at the beginning of October, with a return to Marseille,’ explained Lamya Essemlali, president of Sea Shepherd France. ‘With its history, size and impact on the Mediterranean Sea, Marseille is a key city with a decisive role to play. If Marseille changes, the fate of the Mediterranean Sea can change too.’