By thinking globally and acting locally a Croatian-based environmental NGO aims to make a difference.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Ohrid -- 27/09/2012
Environmentalists warn that regular cleanups of Lake Ohrid are a must due to dumping that endangers natural spawning of endemic fish. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
Raising concern over the increasing pollution of the waters in the Balkans prompted a global initiative to clean the sea, lakes and rivers that have become solid waste dump sites.
The Global Underwater Awareness Association, based in Croatia, organised the first global action to clean the shorelines in more than 20 countries. In just a few hours, a total of 100,000 tonnes of solid waste was removed. Almost all of the Southeast Europe countries were involved in the action.
The association is a new, non-profit environmental NGO financed by British businessman Bernie Ecclestone, with an aim to raise public awareness, especially in young generations, on the impact of polluted seas, lakes and rivers.
Kristijan Curavic, president of the association, told SETimes that in the Balkans, Croatia has the most waste, but that other regional countries closely follow.
"The situation in the Balkans is critical, since ecology and environmental care in our countries did not exist 10 years ago. Croatia is worst off with its long coast; Serbia and Montenegro follow, along with the other regional countries," he said.
"Croatia's coast is the most polluted in Europe after Scotland's Celtic Sea. It's a tourist country and annually earns up to 1.3 billion euros from tourism, but allocates 134 euros for environmental cleanup," Curavic said.
According to Curavic there is no beach or deserted island without waste at its sea floor -- from car tires, metal, plastic, cans, glass, batteries, motors, oil and gasoline containers and more.
"I was the first to start organised cleaning of the Croatian coast. We got out more than 65 tonnes of waste. Then we came up with the idea to organise a cleanup action regionwide, and then globally," Curavic said.
Most of the cleanup action in Croatia took place near the coastal town of Biograd, while in Montenegro it was Budva, Slovenska Beach and the town marina.
"Pollution is really high in certain areas along the shoreline. It is quite unprotected and threatened by various waste. We, the organisation, act on citizen warnings, and then advise the relevant institutions. We plan to open an office where citizens can report cases of water pollution," said Nebojsa Ivanovic, president of the underwater association's branch in Montenegro.
Macedonia's Lake Ohrid, declared a UNESCO-protected world heritage site, has been turned to a solid waste dump yard. Though the lake is only 30km long, divers claim there is different waste on the bottom of the lake.
Vasko Nikoloski, an Ohrid Amphora club diver, told SETimes that the lake contains refrigerators, stoves and washing machines.
"Up to now we removed dozens of tonnes of waste from the lake; plastic, wood, construction material, iron, sports equipment, bicycles. … When building or repairing their houses, instead of building construction waste to dispose with appropriately, residents throw them into the lake," Nikoloski said.
Several spots in the lake are worse than others -- with several bad areas near tourist facilities. The lake is more than 200m deep, and divers can only remove the waste near the coast and in the lower depths.
Rivers in the Balkans are not in a better condition. Environmentalists said that regional countries need to give special attention to the afforestations of catchment areas to reduce erosion of riverbeds through regular river cleanups.
"Every year, all water spaces become potential landfills, and so far no one has dealt with it systematically, only occasionally. Studies show that hundreds of tonnes of rubbish is wasting away at the bottom of lakes, rivers, seas and oceans," Kiro Angeleski, president of the Skopje diving club Vrelo, said.
Gjoko Zoroski from the Ecologists Movement of Macedonia, told SETimes that the increase in water waste directly threatens all water wildlife.
"Waste in aquatic ecosystems can discharge toxic substances, which then enters the food chain of aquatic organisms, and can be found in food for human consumption," Zoroski said.
According to Zoroski, the lack of public awareness is the main reason behind the problem, but it is also hard to implement legal regulations because of a lack of environmental inspectors.
Lence Lokoska, a water specialist at the Ohrid Hydrobiological Institute for testing water quality, said that reduction of water pollution requires constant cleanups.
"Artificial lakes [reservoirs] are also affected due to mechanical contamination, they have a short life span, and need frequent cleanups," Lokoska told SETimes.