A supermarket cart, a refrigerator, an electric kettle, four motorcycles, a toilet bowl, a Louis Vuitton suitcase, cinderblocks, tiles, tires and car batteries: These are just some of the items brought up from Greece’s seabeds by AllForBlue, an environmental protection organization founded three years ago by Katerina Topouzoglou.
Every sea cleanup campaign carried out by the Greek group promises new surprises, yet they are still shocked by the ease with which people continue to use the sea as a rubbish dump, as though it has the magical ability to make everything they no longer want disappear.
Even though the members of AllForBlue have already cleared at least 204 tons of trash from the sea to date, they know their work is far from over – which is probably why Topouzoglou started waving to the driver of a garbage truck as it passed by us on the beach at Palaio Faliro, southern Athens. “I think of him as a colleague,” she says, going on to explain that anyone who dives will have observed that there’s more trash than fish in many parts of the country’s seas.
“This is what prompted me about a decade ago to start thinking that something had to be done before it was too late. I was active in beach and seabed cleanups quite some time before we set up AllForBlue,” she explains.
A world champion in underwater target shooting and an avid scuba diver, Topouzoglou has a very clear picture of the damage being done to the marine environment and admits that cleanups are just not enough, describing them as a Sisyphean effort. “Even if you clean up an entire beach and its seabed, it will be full of trash again in a matter on months. The only way to stop this from happening is to educate children,” she says.
To this end, AllForBlue also specializes in seminars for groups of schoolchildren. “We have already spoken to 55,000 children and the results are astounding… So far, we can boast 20 cleanup groups created by children in different parts of Greece thanks to our seminars,” says Topouzoglou.
Topouzoglou admits that she used to be an avid fan of spearfishing, but experienced a complete change of heart when she saw a video by Italian conservationist Cristina Zenato. The diver lived in the Bahamas and found a way to charm sharks so that she can get close enough to remove hooks left in their bodies by fishermen’s botched attempts to catch them.
“It made such an impression on me that I went to find her in the Caribbean so she could train me. It really was a spectacular experience to dive in the oceans with sharks and learn how to feed them. I soon realized that they are the most misunderstood creatures on the planet. They are our ecosystem’s greatest garbage disposal system because they eat all the dead and dying fish,” Topouzoglou says as we get ready to leave the beach.
To learn more about AllForBlue and where its next campaign will be, visit allforblue.org.