03/04/2015 06:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Taste of Spring by the Adriatic Sea


Porto San Giorgio, Marche, Italy, The Adriatic Sea

Last week was like spring in Italy! I was able to enjoy long, relaxing walks by the seashore. The early afternoon sun was balmy. Tiny waves rolled in and rippled in front of my feet. The crisp air nipped without biting coloring people's pale winter faces.

An old fisherman's boat laid abandoned along the coast. The perfect place to stop, read a book and allow the sun to sink into my bones. I was deep into in to the story when a conversation taking place between two young ladies dragged me back to reality. They were only a few feet away. One of them spread open a blanket on the sand. They sat down facing the water and went on chatting, as though the world around them did not exist. At intervals, between one consideration and another, the two friends inhaled the salt air deeply, a renowned cure-all elixir we love to take advantage of throughout the year. I could not help but think of how fortunate we are to live by the sea, to have the opportunity to alleviate the stress of life by simply stepping outside the door.

I decided to close my eyes and rest, since reading was no longer an option. No matter how hard I tried to isolate myself from the noise, I could still overhear the conversation.

" I can't believe those environmentalists. Look at the scenery here, it's breathtaking. They go around complaining the sea is polluted. The water is not dirty, the black stuff that washes up on shore from time to time is only debris that is carried down from the rivers" - and more: "It's those people who destroyed the fishing and tourism economy. They go on badmouthing our sea."

Sure, on the surface everything appears to be normal. Most people can't even begin to imagine the wounds and scars that lie beneath the calm, peaceful, seemingly depthless body of water that gives humanity pleasure, health and food day after day. After all, the Adriatic doesn't exactly make headline news.

The question is not if there is human impact on the sea, rather, to what degree has human impact damaged the Adriatic and the oceans around the globe?

Between July 28th and 29th 2014, Italian environmental association Legambiente conducted a study along the coastline of the Marche region, where I live. A 180 kilometer stretch that showed how ten out of the 12 sites analyzed turned out to be "illegal", eight of these were declared "highly polluted." Samples of sea water were tested and results revealed a high total bacteria count and the presence of Escherichia coli as well as intestinal enterococci . These harmful pathogens not only contribute to polluting rivers and seas, they also cause serious health problems to human beings.

Overfishing -- another problem the Adriatic Sea has to contend with. Every year, in the entire world, about 90 million tons of fish are caught for commercial purposes. We are not merely fishing, we are raiding our waters! To this number we must add another thirty or forty million tons of prey labeled as "accidental catch" -- marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks, birds and seals die trapped in nets and other fishing equipment; devices that are dangerous to sea life even once they have served their purpose because we carelessly dispose of our garbage in the same oceans we feed from -- pieces of net, hooks, plastic and other gear have proven to be lethal to marine creatures. Since the beginning of January 2015 at least 80 sea turtles (Caretta Caretta) washed up dead on the shores of the Adriatic. The situation for these peaceful, ancient inhabitants of the sea has worsened steadily in time. Causes of death range from chemical pollution to the ingestion of plastic material to drowning in fishing nets.

On February 13, 2015 the journal Science released a study by the title " Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean ." It is estimated that between five and fourteen million tons of plastic invade our oceans annually. To better understand the magnitude of these numbers we could picture a ratio of one pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish within the next ten years -- a bleak picture to say the least. However, all hope is not lost. We can still invert the course of destruction humanity has taken, if we recognize the problem, if we come together as corporations, businesses, governments, non-profits, as people who live and are part of the same Planet Earth. The motto is " Let's get busy and clean up! "

By the way, I ended up introducing myself to Chiara and Sara (imaginary names). "Excuse me, sorry to interrupt. I couldn't help listening to what you were saying. My name is Christina, I'm an environmentalist." I joined the conversation and made two new friends. Turned out we all love the Adriatic Sea and wish to do our best to preserve it for the generations to come.