Plastic choking the environment

Environmentalists warned yesterday that years of uncontrolled dumping of plastic along the country’s coastlines and in illegal landfills has resulted in a new and insidious form of pollution: millions of tiny plastic fibers that are tainting beaches and even ending up in the food chain of fish and other marine life. «We are really worried, as all the beaches we inspected revealed concentrations of these tiny plastic fibers to a greater or lesser extent,» Anastassia Miliou of the Institute of Marine & Environmental Research of the Aegean Sea, also known as Archipelagos, told Kathimerini. The nonprofit conservation group, based on the Aegean island of Icaria, based its conclusions on sand samples taken from 110 beaches in different parts of the Aegean. The group’s next project is to analyze sand from the neighboring Turkish coastline. According to Miliou, the plastic fibers, which are not visible to the naked eye, pose a particular risk precisely due to their small size. «The fibers pose a growing threat to the health of human beings and ecosystems because they spread so easily,» she said, noting that fish and other sea creatures are believed to digest a significant amount of these tiny shreds of plastic. As to how the plastic ends up on coastlines and beaches, Miliou laid the blame on beachgoers who thoughtlessly discard plastic bags and bottles but also on the widespread scourge of illegal landfills, where thousands dump their plastic and other waste. Experts were surprised to find the plastic fibers in significant concentrations even on remote beaches. «It was really shocking to see uninhabited beaches on Icaria and Rhodes containing a greater concentration of plastic fibers than many busy beaches in Attica,» said Richard Standerwick, a British marine biologist who helped the Archipelagos group with their research. Miliou said it was imperative that studies be carried out as to the impact on human health and the environment of the plastic fibers. «This is a new form of pollution and further studies are vital,» Miliou said.