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Storms in the Wine-Dark Sea

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The Mediterranean, Homer's wine-dark sea, is nearly locked between the continents of Africa, Europe and Asia.

The Greeks and other ancient people utilized the sea like a highway for travel, communication, trade and exploration.

Water, the natural world, and the Mediterranean were essential for the rise and growth of western civilization, although the Greeks and Romans had a very limited impact on the natural world of the Mediterranean.

The real damage to the Mediterranean Sea happened in recent times.

The rapid population growth of the Asian and African countries bordering the Mediterranean, coupled with greed and political conflict, has set the Mediterranean Sea on the path of environmental instability.

About 150 million people live along the coast of the Mediterranean. These people belong to 21 countries divided by wealth, poverty, climate, culture and religion.

The northern countries, especially Spain, France and Italy, have significant industries, which leave a deleterious environmental footprint on the sea. Spain, France and Italy also belong to the European Union. Most of the EU countries are not Mediterranean countries. However, some of their largest rivers full of natural and man-made effluents, empty into the Mediterranean.

In 2013, all the rivers draining into the Mediterranean contain a significant amount of chemicals and radioactive wastes that nature cannot detoxify or assimilate.

Oil exploration and heavy traffic of oil tankers, as well as countless pleasure and tourist boats coated with anti-fouling biocides, are polluting the Mediterranean with long-lasting toxic chemicals and petroleum.

In addition, toxic waste is disposed directly into the Mediterranean while millions of tons of ships and munitions, including nerve gas weapons from the world wars of the 20th century, are spread or buried all over the bottom of the sea.

Fishing threatens the Mediterranean. To get their hands on red coral, criminal businessmen have their ships drag across the sea floor a six-meter "Italian bar," weighing more than a ton. This bar destroys everything on its path, including corals.

According to "Sea Turtles in the Mediterranean," a 2010 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, fishing is a hazardous business in the Mediterranean. Boats use long lines to catch tuna. These lines are more than 100-kilometers long with about 2,000 hooks. This fishing method, no less violent than the Italian bar, catches all kinds of fish, including tuna, sharks, and endangered turtles.

In 2010, the UN Environment Programme summarized the evidence in "The Mediterranean Sea Biodiversity." This report confirms that the Mediterranean Sea has 1,882 plant and animal species, 364 of which are endemic.

Despite this wealth of life, the Mediterranean continues to be abused. Its dunes and coastal wetlands, full of animals and plants, are in sharp decline. Fishing wild fish continues to be the greatest threat to life in the Mediterranean.

Industrial fishing fleets exploit the Mediterranean Sea like there's no tomorrow. They catch millions of tons of fish every year. But in the process of capturing fish fit for sale they also catch enormous number and amounts of fish, which, dying or dead, they dump back into the sea. These "discards" or "non-commercial species" sometimes account for as much as 75 percent of the daily catch.

Small-scale fisheries use trammels, traps, gillnets and long lines to catch fish. Industrial fisheries scoop the fish from the sea with trawlers, purse seine, large long lines and driftnet.

The 2010 UN Environment Programme report concluded that fishing "gear" has been having dreadful effects on both fish and the sea environment that enables the fish to survive and flourish.

High levels of fish exploitation and over-fishing are the norm. Fishing fleets don't hesitate to fish with illegal gears and methods like: trawling in shallow waters; using dynamite to kill fish; employing large driftnets and illegal mesh sizes of net. As a result of these violent ways of seizing fish, the population of fish, both commercial and non-commercial, is dramatically falling.

Fish habitats like Posidonia oceanica meadows and coral beds are being wrecked. The UN Environment Programme report says the Posidonia oceanica meadows, nurseries of fish and other wild animals, are "the most important ecosystems" of the Mediterranean.

Time has come for the civilizations of the Mediterranean -- Christian, Moslem and secular -- to wake up. EU and Mediterranean countries need to rethink their ancient histories and present dire environmental predicament.

Global warming makes the current danger even more acute.

The countries of the Mediterranean and Europe must end the exploitation of the Mediterranean: control tourism; and control population growth in the east and south to avoid inevitable ecological collapse and massive hunger; and ban destructive fishing practices.

Finally, clean up the floor of the Mediterranean Sea of all weapons and munitions and hazardous wastes. Make the entire Mediterranean a protected park. Let the ancient sea, the Greeks' wine-dark sea, recover its beauty and wildlife. The people of this basin and all of Europe, and the world, deserve no less.

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