Emerging Technologies

This project is cleaning up abandoned fish farms in the seas around Greece

Bird holding plastic waste.

Projects worldwide are helping tackle ocean pollution. Image: Unsplash/Tim Mossholder

David Elliott
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate
  • An initiative in Greece is working to clean up abandoned fish farms which contribute to pollution and marine debris, and affect local people’s livelihoods.
  • Projects around the world are tackling the problem of ocean pollution, including beach-cleaning robots and a huge floating boom in the Pacific.
  • The World Economic Forum’s UpLink initiative is also helping to accelerate the development of solutions.

Western Greece boasts picturesque landscapes, beautiful beaches and renowned holiday islands. Yet just off the coast, beneath the Ionian Sea, lurks something less idyllic, especially for the local sea life – ghost farms.

These abandoned fish farms release debris, plastic and pollution into the marine environment. They endanger the flora and fauna – and they are a growing problem.

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A survey by the Healthy Seas initiative identified 150 possible locations of fish farming-related waste along the coastline. Partnering with Hyundai, the organization has been working to clean up these ghost farms.

In a recent 10-day intensive clean-up, the project worked in two locations – seas off the port city of Patras and the island of Ithaca. It removed more than 42.7 tonnes of marine litter, including large nets used in fish farming, and structures including cages made of pipes and polystyrene.

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The ocean economy

Healthy Seas works with volunteer divers, harbour authorities, waste managers and teachers to address marine debris and raise awareness of the problem. It says the operation in Greece, which sends debris including nylon nets for recycling, is the beginning of a year-long effort to tackle the problem.

Alongside addressing the ecological impact, the project aimed to restore the waters for local communities who rely on clean seas for tourism and leisure.

More than 3 billion people globally depend on marine and coastal biodiversity to make a living, according to the United Nations. Alongside, healthy oceans and seas provide many other benefits, including food, medicines and other products. This ocean economy is worth around $2.5 trillion. The yearly socioeconomic costs due to ocean mismanagement amount to about $1 trillion, according to UNDP estimates.

Biggest ocean-based industries
The ocean economy is estimated to be worth around $2.5 trillion. Image: UNCTAD

A key part of the solution is education, according to Healthy Seas. This chimes with the efforts of organizations including the WWF, which says equipping coastal communities to effectively manage the resources they depend upon is vital. Its Coastal Communities Initiative advocates for policies that give local people a role in managing resources and works to build expertise in this area that stays in communities.

How much marine debris is there?

As well as derelict fishing gear, other harmful types of marine debris include plastic, abandoned vessels and even household appliances.

Estimating how much of this marine debris there is in oceans and lakes is tricky, according to US government agency the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But it says that the problem is widespread. Its Marine Debris Program funds projects across the US to remove debris from coastlines and research the issue to increase understanding of the problem.

Other countries are working to tackle the issue. In Australia, the Pacific Ocean Litter Project is helping Pacific island countries reduce marine debris, including plastic pollution, in their coastal environments. The EU is also working to address marine litter and ‘ghost fishing’ gear.

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What's the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?

Innovative solutions

Meanwhile, innovative projects across the globe are helping to clean up and restore marine environments. Examples include a huge floating boom that skims debris from the surface of the water that is helping to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and beach-cleaning robots that use cameras and AI to identify and clean litter.

The World Economic Forum’s UpLink initiative is helping entrepreneurs and innovators to accelerate the development of solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues, as set out in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Conservation and sustainable use of marine environments is one of the 17 SDGs. Goal 14 includes targets such as increasing the economic benefits from sustainable use of marine resources, and increasing knowledge and research around ocean health and marine biodiversity.

As Veronika Mikos, the director of the Healthy Seas initiative, says: “Clean waters should be a right for all coastal communities around the world. Our mission goes beyond just cleaning up; it's about reclaiming these waters for marine life and the people who depend on them.”

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