World Ocean Day: What is Italy doing to protect its seas?

As World Ocean Day was marked across the globe on Tuesday, how is Italy responding to the threats of plastic pollution and global warming? We look at what's really being done to preserve the country's spectacular seas and 7,600 kilometres of coastline.

World Ocean Day: What is Italy doing to protect its seas?
Italy is famed for its beautiful coastline, but environmental groups warn it is under threat. Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE/AFP

Since 1992, World Ocean Day has celebrated the aquatic environment and called for conservation measures to protect a planet under environmental threat-

“We are taking more from the ocean than can be replenished… The ocean is now in need of support,” stated the United Nations.

This year, the conservation pledge is “30×30” – a target of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030, as big fish and coral reefs are depleted.

READ ALSO: More than 40 percent of Italian coastline is polluted

But how much will Italy be contributing to meeting this target?

Despite being known for its beautiful beaches, the country has vast amounts of plastic littering its coastline, climate change devastating the country and the government repeatedly stalling on ocean-saving initiatives such as the plastic tax.

“The oceans are in danger,” stated Italian environmental group Legambiente in a press release on Monday.

“By 2050 the weight of plastic in the water will exceed that of fish,” the group added, saying there’s particular cause for concern in the Mediterranean.

The group has been coordinating a campaign called ‘Clean Up The Med‘ since 1995, which organises beach and sea clean-ups across 21 Mediterranean countries, as well as analysing data from the litter cleared.

“The data collected in the latest edition of Clean up The Med tells us once again of an ecosystem in pain and suffocated by plastic, from Italy to Algeria, from Spain to Palestine,” stated Giorgio Zampetti, Director of Legambiente.

“There is an absolute urgency to adopt common policies for all the Mediterranean coasts in the management of waste, both in its production and disposal”, he added.

READ ALSO: What is Italy doing about the shocking level of plastic pollution on its coastline?

A student holds a placard during a demonstration as part of the Fridays for Future movement for climate change. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Small initiatives up and down the country are working to turn the tide on plastic and create a more secure future.

In the Tuscan archipelago, the Pelagos Plastic Free initiative aims to help reduce plastic waste in the waters of the Pelagos Marine Mammal Sanctuary.

With the aim of reducing plastic waste, the project scientifically monitors plastic in the sea and holds campaigns to inform the public about the destruction taking place.

READ ALSO: ‘I was shocked’: How Sicily’s foreign residents are fighting plastic pollution on the beach

Also in the Pelagos is an underwater laboratory that is studying the effect of climate change and in turn, aims to protect marine ecosystems from the data gained.

The biggest offenders are shopping bags, cotton buds, disposable cutlery, straws and bottles, the organisation noted. In some areas, especially in the Adriatic, fishing and aquaculture nets are a major cause of pollution.

More than 70 percent of marine waste is dumped on the Italian seabed, 77 percent of which is plastic, the Institute added.

In some areas of the Adriatic, more than 300 objects are found per square kilometre, and plastic accounts for more than 80 percent. They estimated that a fisherman in Chioggia, Veneto, can catch up to 8 tonnes of waste in a year, or 9kg of waste for every 100kg of fish.

READ ALSO: Italy postpones plastic tax again due to Covid-19 pandemic

Photo: Johan ORDONEZ/AFP

In the Mediterranean Sea almost two-thirds of sea turtles have ingested plastic. In the Tyrrhenian Sea more than 50 percent of some fish analysed and 70 percent of some deep-sea sharks had plastic in their stomachs.

Abandoned fishing nets trap, damage and uproot deep-sea organisms such as sponges, gorgonians and black corals.

With such grim facts and figures, what is the Italian government doing to reverse the trend and create a more sustainable future?

“Protecting seas and oceans is necessary and no longer postponable,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio reportedly stated on Tuesday at an event named “Oceans and Health: We Thought We Could Stay Healthy In a Sick World”.

“Our country is on the front line in safeguarding global water resources and the fight against climate change,” he said.

However, the Italian government postponed the country’s plastic tax for the second year running last week, a law designed to reduce consumption of single-use plastic.

Instead of meeting already delayed targets, Italy stalled again, citing economic pressure due to the pandemic as the reason behind its decision to postpone the tax for another year.

Italy’s delay came as the EU Directive on single-use plastics (SUP) is soon due to come into effect, from July 3rd.

READ ALSO: How Italian researchers and fishermen are working to restore Venice’s lagoon

For now, there’s no news on how Italy plans to enforce the EU directive and sanction those failing to adhere to the new rules. What’s more, there’s resistance to the upcoming environment-saving measures in favour of business goals.

League leader Matteo Salvini tweeted that the plastic tax would put 30,000 jobs at risk, adding that his party is working to get the measure scrapped completely.

And the president of the largest association of Italian companies, Confindustria, Carlo Bonomi, stated, “The EU guidelines on the SUP Directive effectively close down an entire industry sector.”

Meanwhile, last week, environmental campaigners submitted a lawsuit against the Italian government for failing to tackle the climate crisis.

The move came in conjunction with World Environment Day, in which activists, citizens and campaigners ordered the state to urgently adopt more stringent climate policies to reduce carbon emissions.

Campaigners criticised Italy’s 750-billion-euro pandemic Recovery Fund, which included the aim of Italy becoming “carbon free” by 2050, for not being ambitious enough.

“In order to bring about a real revolution against marine litter, it will be necessary to extend the ban on disposable waste to all the countries bordering the Mediterranean, together with stricter rules on the other most common types of waste found on beaches,” stated Zampetti.

Beyond government decisions, he said, it’s also up to individuals.

“We must not forget that we too can contribute to reducing the consumption of disposable plastic through our daily behaviour, and that the protection of our seas is also in our hands,” he added.

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