Plastic pollution chocking water bodies in Lebanon

Mediterranean turtle pollution plastic
Mountain of garbage ends up in the Mediterranean sea since the the overflowing trash has already grown to enormous proportions in Bourj Hammoud. © Stefan Leijon

Plastic pollution as well as garbage pollution has become an enormous source of problem not only in Lebanon but worldwide. The crisis has gained such proportions that it is chocking Lebanon as well as significantly polluting the Mediterranean Sea.

Marine biologist Michel Bariche catches fishes as a hobby. When he cut open the giant Bluefin tuna that he had caught, he was surprised to find all kinds of plastic litter inside the fish’s guts.

“We found candy, chocolate and gum wrappers,” in the fish, said Bariche in reference to plastic pollution. “No one has ever seen plastic in tuna [in Lebanon] as far as I know”.

Mountain of garbage ends up in the Mediterranean sea since the the overflowing trash has already grown to enormous proportions in Bourj Hammoud through land reclamation and disposing it off in the sea is the lazy man’s option.

According to Bariche, there is no local research on the impact of plastic pollution in the sea on marine life, as experts in the field are scarce.

“I don’t have any record of plastic in fish. It could be that someone has seen it earlier, but it’s not something common. We’re used to seeing it in sea turtles, dolphins and whales, and recently in seabirds,” said Bariche.

“Plastic is most often eaten by turtles, but it sometimes ends up in bigger fish by default,” concurred Sami Lakkis, marine sciences researcher and professor at the Lebanese University while adding that there is no specific research on the topic in Lebanon.

The absence of local research on the impact of plastic pollution means, nationwide figures are not available. As per a 2015 study, it is estimated that the Mediterranean sea has 1,000 to 3,000 tons of plastic floating on its surface.

The 2015 study titled “Plastic accumulation in the Mediterranean Sea” was published in the PLOS One journal reads, “Effects of plastic pollution on marine and human life are expected to be particularly frequent in this plastic accumulation region,” while noting that millimeter-sized fragments dominate most the debris.

“The debris floating on the water’s surface is photodegradable, it breaks down in the presence of light. They become microplastics but never disappear,” explained Bariche on the dangers of plastic pollution. “They have toxic molecules that end up in the body of the animal. Some plastic can, like the pieces that we found, potentially release toxic substances.”

“The plastic is only dangerous when it breaks down into molecules,” added Lakkis.

Manal Nader, director of the University of Balamand’s environment institute said, “Nobody likes to eat anything that has garbage in it. What do we expect? We pollute our waters, we throw plastic everywhere and then we blame the fish, the fishermen and the market.”

According to Nader, the main cause of marine pollution is poor waste management.

“The last bin of our garbage is the ocean. Regulations and management should be on land, because you need to treat it at the root,” said Nader.

One of the problems with plastic pollution is its impact on marine life and the near impossibility to measure it, especially in its macroplastic form.

“It’s hard to measure the amount of plastic in water. You throw something here, and you might find it in Morocco,” said Nader.