“The sea cannot be destroyed; be sure of that!” Mohammed Knio, the head of the Fisherman Union at Raouche, said. “Even if you dump all the area’s sewage, nothing is going to happen. The sea cleanses itself.”
“If there’s garbage, the sea will throw it out,” Knio continued. He pointed out to some bags and said, “Look, this is garbage from Saida (Sidon).”
The coast of Raouche is littered with garbage. You can find anything from plastic bottles, plastic bags, tins, cans, nylon bags, barrels and syringes. I recall a couple of years ago spotting a bed and a washing machine on the coast.
Garbage from the notorious Sidon dump leaks into the sea and makes its way to Raouche but it is not just about Sidon. Many in Lebanon throw their garbage on the streets, out of the windows of their cars and, when it rains, the water drags the filth into the sewers and back to the sea.
“The amount of garbage bags in the sea is enormous, especially when you take your boat and sail at large,” Ibrahim Sidani, a shop owner who fishes for leisure, said. “We once saw a cow floating nearby.”
Among the garbage dumped in the Mediterranean are also toxic chemical such as lead, mercury and nitrate. According to Green Peace, these substances can travel thousands of kilometers and poison human because coastal cities depend on fish as a diet.
According to a study by the United Nations Environment Programme, around 650 million tons of sewage, 60,000 tons of mercury and 3,800 tons of lead are dumped into the Mediterranean. Lead can be neurotoxic at low levels.
Garbage is not exclusive to the Mediterranean, in the Pacific Ocean is an island of garbage approximately twice the size of France called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
According to Knio, a family of seals used to live in in Magharet Al Fakakem (or Seals Grotto) in Raouche before the Civil War. Today, the Mediterranean monk seal is an endangered species.
Knio recalls that once his dad saw one of the seals catch a fish, so he followed it and stole the seals’ fish, which weighed two kilograms. “I wish the seals were still here,” Knio said. “They could have multiplied and now we would have 80 or more of them.”
The 2006 July War caused a dramatic oil spill in the Mediterranean. Around 45,000 metric tons of petrol floated on the surface of the sea, according to the website Green Prophet. Fishermen could not work for six months.
But even during time of peace, the number of fish is decreasing. “It’s not that the number of fish has diminished. It’s the fact that there are more people,” Knio said. “Instead of 10 fishermen there are 200 fishermen.”
Overfishing is a global problem. The solution, which several Western countries apply, is to limit the amount of fish one may catch. Many fishermen, who fish for fun, are asked to dump the fish they catch.
But for Knio and his peers, fishing is the means to provide for the family. “We fishermen don’t know what God holds for us, the best time is in the spring when the fish want to mate,” he said. “You can’t say I want to fish this number of fish, it depends on what God wants. Like this poor fisherman; he went for nothing.”
Knio pointed at fisherman who just came back to shore with nothing in hand.
Knio took me for a ride on his boat to show me the Raouche caves. He had to dodge nylon bags and other big chunks of garbage so as not to destroy his boat. One of the caves, Magharet Al Shouni (or Bats Cave) houses 50 to 100 bats. You could hear them before spotting them. The cave was literally filled with garbage on the rims.
“Over the years the number of bats has become less,” Knio said.
Divers cleaned up the shores last October as part of the International Underwater Clean Up Day. They collected one ton of garbage.
“I mostly fish near Jounieh. When you fish on the coasts, you do see some garbage and lots of oil spots,” Sidani said. “But when you dive, the amount of plastic trash bags and other filth you see is terrible. The deep sea is very polluted.”
By Omar El Tani
LAU Tribune staff