Fishing port of Motril , Wednesday, five in the morning. Ignacio López Cabrera, the patron, starts the Eagles engines . Overcast sky, 28º of temperature and an overwhelming humidity that soaks us with sweat. The sea is calm , like a raft. The trawler in which Chronicle goes out to fish roars more and more. Pirulo , who is called Joaquín Peñalver, one of the three experienced sailors who make up the ship's crew, loads seven large bags with ice and gives a final review of the deck . An hour later, at six o'clock, still with a closed night, the trawler loosens moorings and slowly moves away from Motril. Without a moon, the sea ahead of us is the closest thing to a dark room. There is no turning back. In the next 12 hours we will not touch land. We are going to fish for fish ... and a lot of trash! An octopus that hides in a PVC pipe, sardines that shine between a plastic egg cup and a straw hat ...
"When they tell you that a drop of water from the Mediterranean takes 80 years to renew and you see with your own eyes how pollution grows unstoppable, you have to get wet , you can't keep looking the other way." And Cabrera, to whom the sea has given everything since he began to fish with just 15 years, today he is 55, has been wet. He no longer looks elsewhere but at the bottom of that Mediterranean , once the bridge of civilizations, which every day looks more like a landfill . Perhaps that is why - he speaks "with the heart and the head" - he was the first to embark on a project, baptized as Ecopuertos , to extract the garbage that makes the sea that has fed him eat. "We too, the fishermen, have to change," admits the boss. He has opened his eyes, he says, the father of a pioneer idea in Spain to clean up the Mediterranean: the scientist and professor Enrique Montero, from the University of Cádiz, with whom he maintains a close research collaboration.
"Every day, five Motril trawlers, in addition to fishing for fish, go out to fish for garbage," Montero explains graphically the day before our departure. In that fishing port of Granada is where, in 2014, this unique project starts, the steps of which are already followed by the Fishermen's Association of Barcelona, and those of Valencia, Murcia and some of Galicia are underway. "The objective - the Cadiz scientist points out - is not to clean the Mediterranean, that is impossible , I would even say that it is an illusion . The urgent thing now is to stop this brutal flow of waste. Put the remedy so that this marine landfill does not continue to grow» . And how.
2050: MORE GARBAGE THAN FISH
If things do not change, by 10 years, as predicted by the World Economic Forum, the seas and oceans of our planet will contain a ton of plastics for every three tons of fish and, in 2050, the weight of this waste will be greater than Weight of all the fish on the planet. That is, there will be more garbage than fish. In fact, the plastic, the material that Motril fisheries associated with the project Scientists Ecopuertos of the University of Cádiz most extract from the Mediterranean funds, has increased 20 times in the last half century and is expected to double again in The next 20 years. They are not the only ones.
In just 10 months, the Eagles, along with four more ships that have also joined the project, have extracted 46,370 objects that were deposited in the section that goes from Motril to the Alboran Sea and part of the Atlantic waters that bathe the bay of Cádiz There are remains of all kinds: from greenhouse plastics, blood-filled glass tubes and soda cans of all sizes, to military projectile sheaths, urban garbage containers and washing machines .
The plan devised by Professor Montero is almost detective . And in it, the trawlers, formerly with a reputation as shearers, are now the masterpieces of their Ecopuertos, to re-fish the waste and contribute to the sanitation of the seabed. "The amount , although it may not seem like it, is not the most important thing. The keys are other. How to know the origin of the garbage and thus be able to take action," says the father of the initiative. Once they arrive at the port, the waste is classified and the exact point where they were fished , the depth at which they were and the type of buildings (hotels, greenhouses, factories or urbanizations) that are nearby are established.
"We are like archaeologists, who find a piece and try to find out where it comes from, how it got there and why ... We do the same but with every other marine litter and, from there, we try to establish plans in land to avoid those spills. " All these data obtained go to a specific computer program, co-designed by Montero and his colleagues from the University of Cádiz, from which the first map of marine debris from the Andalusian Mediterranean will start in principle. "And later we will extrapolate the model to the entire Spanish Mediterranean coast," according to Montero. A plan that has the blessings of the Junta de Andalucía, according to the researcher himself, and that he intends to implement throughout its coastline, including its Atlantic maritime space.
"After making many adjustments in the investigation and refining the data, we began to have a clear and scientific idea of the problem we are facing. It is not enough to collect the waste, put it in sacks and say that that waste will become a shirt or a raincoat. Among other things because that is not true. Ok, yes, to take a picture and make propaganda, "deliza Enrique Montero. "But sso does not solve anything nor is it scientific."
Some fishing grounds have already been identified. In the area of Castell Ferro, to which we are heading in the Eagles, the remains of fences , fertilizer containers , seedbeds and plastics predominate. Hence the 1,040 tires were also rescued. In the center of the Alboran Sea, a merchant ship route, around a mountain, its mbmarino known as Seco de Motril, remains of glass and metal abound. At that point a washing machine appeared. In the Atlantic waters that bathe San Fernando, trawlers of Sanlúcar de Barrameda have extracted empty weapons boxes , projectile shells and even various glass tubes filled with blood from the bottom. And in Nerja, the most abundant waste dump is made up of plastic bottles .
After an hour of navigation from Motril, arriving at the Castell de Ferro fishing ground, between the urban centers of Calahonda and Castell de Ferro, the Águilas slows down and the crew is wearing waterproof work overalls for the first set. On both sides, on the slopes of bare mountains of vegetation, the plastic roofs of hundreds of greenhouses stand out in the distance. They call it the tropical coast , due to a microclimate that favors the growth of tropical fruits such as mango , avocado or custard apple. Seen from the trawler, the Mediterranean is changing from green to blue. The transparency of the water lets us see a tuna with a radio transmitter on the spine. It's like watching a torpedo heading towards the ship.
After an hour, the employer's horn warns that the time has come for pickup . We are escorted by a family of dolphins with several young. For a moment I think there is still hope for this sea. A squad of seagulls suddenly appears above our heads. A motor pulls the steel ropes and raises the fish to the deck. The eagles' net opens and the sailors spread the content. It is just a snack of what awaits us. "As we go, we will catch more garbage than fish," murmurs the occurrence Pirulo crouched on the booty. This sea lion is not misled. Nine months ago, the journal Science , one of the bibles of world science, lit the alarms in one of its reports. He said that the amount of waste going to the seas could cover Manhattan Island 34 times in the next decade. "The spills will be equivalent to two trucks per minute in 2030 and four trucks per minute in 2050." In fact, what awaits us aboard the trawler is only the appetizer.
Among silver sardines that jump like ping pong balls, horse mackerel and the occasional octopus that tries to sneak down one of the drains of the deck, a straw hat , plastic containers of all sizes, a kind of egg cup of the same material and what would be a yellow float full of shells stuck and eaten away by the waters. "We have even fished traces of paws, " Pirulo recalls. "Every thing we collect from the bottom of the sea has a history," says Ignacio, the patron, who has left the bridge to check the catches. "In autumn and winter there are many more garbage, because the rains and tides drag all the waste that has left the summer and is deposited in the bottom."
- Do you get paid to collect waste?
-Not a penny, neither me nor the other four trawlers. I, like the others, do it altruistically , by conviction. Because I think fishermen have to get involved . The sea has given us everything and now the sea needs us more than ever.
-But not all fishermen think like you. What does it tell you?
-I speak to you in the brotherhoods, I try to convince you with scientific data, I tell you what we do in the Ecopuertos project, what we see in the networks, and I tell you that a simple butt that you throw into the sea means the principle of greater pollution. Because that gesture, apparently without major importance represents what one has in the head. It is not just any gesture . You have to change it ...
And it is that the Spanish trawling fleet, among the most numerous in Europe, has a unique opportunity to re-fish the waste and contribute to the study of those that pile up on the seabed.
While we wait for the collection of the second set aboard the Eagles, we can see a two-pole yacht with seven people enjoying the sun on the deck. A man touched with a baseball cap throws what looks like a foil ball with which the sandwiches are wrapped. He stares at me. The dolphins that accompanied us disappear, and also the seagulls. After a while, the horn again.
The collection of the great net attracts dolphins and cormorants again . It comes with more varied fish than in the previous catch . And garbage. An octopus has hidden inside a PVC pipe of half a meter, among a few monkfish appears a large skein of sport fishing line and five aluminum containers of an energy drink, a hake shares space with an iron hook attached to a rope and a cement pipe full of glued shells ... What looks like a shopping bag comes next to a hake ...
But beyond Andalusia, the project of the scientist of the University of Cádiz already has a copy. The fishermen's association of Barcelona, where the garbage occupies almost 40% of the fishing nets in areas near the city, has made it his own although with another name: Marviva. It has 11 trawlers. The idea has also penetrated Murcia and Valencia, whose respective brotherhoods are evaluating how to follow the steps of the Cadiz project.
Even Coca-Cola, with its Circular Seas project, is trying with Spanish and Portuguese brotherhoods. And the Ecoalf clothing firm, which recycles plastic containers into clothing. "We do everything with scientific criteria and in an altruistic way, we do not charge or pay», Montero concludes. "Because if our sea dies, we too."
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