Voluntary Beach Cleanups
In 1983, HELMEPA began a concerted summer awareness campaign starring the association’s “Seagull”, taking place every year since then, with the aim to spread the message for Clean Seas and Beaches to the general public. In this context, for the first time in Greece scouts and schoolchildren participated in voluntary beach cleanups, primarily in the region of Attica.
Since then, beach cleanups have been established as a key information and awareness tool for the prevention of marine litter pollution. Moreover, the adoption and cleanup of a beach constitutes the most popular activity of the “HELMEPA Junior” environmental education program, which since 1993 is offered to schoolchildren, 5-13 years old, in kindergartens and primary schools throughout Greece.
The association’s Environmental Awareness Section coordinates in Greece two international voluntary initiatives: the International Coastal Clean-up Day and the European Clean-Up Day taking place in September and May respectively. As the national coordinator of these activities in Greece, HELMEPA invites its member-companies, local authorities and concerned citizens across the country, to contribute to this initiative by devoting a few hours to cleanup a nearby beach, a section of the seabed, a river bank or lake, a forest area or park.
To facilitate the activities of the participants, HELMEPA provides them with supporting material (cleanup organization instructions, posters) and the special Trash Data Form, which should be completed and sent back. Moreover, HELMEPA contributes to the promotion of such voluntary activities throughout Greece and abroad. The processing of the recorded information results in useful scientific data pertaining to quantities, composition and origin of waste, which are made public in order to raise awareness for pollution prevention.
By enriching the database that HELMEPA has established, the association is monitoring the trend of marine debris pollution in Greece and cooperates with national and international bodies (United Nations Environment Programme – UNEP/MAP, European Environment Agency, Ocean Conservancy, Algalita, etc.) on combating this problem in a more efficient way.
The “Action Month for the Marine Environment” for 2019 was organized and coordinated in Greece by HELMEPA between 14 September and 31 October. In total, 145 cleanups were organized with the participation of 6,500 volunteers. This initiative was part of the 2019 International Coastal Cleanup campaign, the world’s oldest and largest volunteer effort of its kind coordinated globally by the Ocean Conservancy with an annual participation of over 700,000 volunteers in 100 countries around the world.
In Greece, youth and adults cleaned up 73 km of shoreline, collecting and recording on data cards 13 tons of litter, of which 1,5 tons were removed from the seabed by volunteer scuba divers. Moreover, the collaboration with the Hellenic Recycling-Recovery Corporation (He.R.R.Co.) continued in order to recycle as much litter as possible.
The recording of collected litter by volunteers is valuable as it provides a screenshot of the environmental state of Greek coasts following the visit of millions of Greeks and foreigner holidaymakers during the past summer.
In total, volunteers collected 270,734 litter items, from which the Top 10 can be seen in the following table:
|Plastic bottle caps and rings||18,234|
|Plastic water/soda bottles||8,789|
|Single use plastic cups and lids||5,976|
|Glass bottles and broken pieces||5,022|
Cigarette ends along with single-use plastics are high on the list for yet another year. This type of litter is directly linked to our daily consumption habits. While we use them only for a short period of time, when discarded they remain in the environment for many years, polluting the beaches and seas and posing a major threat to marine wildlife. As it is well known, plastic pollution has reached every corner of the planet – from the most remote and uninhabited places to the depths of the oceans – and through the food chain may also end up on our plate. So, it is vital that we all become part of the solution to limit this serious environmental problem.
Participants included kids and youth, members of the “HELMEPA Junior” and “Cadets” programs respectively as well as other students and teachers, local authorities and Coast Guard officers, members of environmental organizations and sailing clubs, divers and individuals. HELMEPA awarded commemorative Participation Diplomas to coordinators, kids and youth in recognition of their voluntary effort.
The actions of the International Coastal Cleanup were projected by national and international media thus contributing to the wider awareness raising of local communities on the need to prevent marine litter pollution. HELMEPA wholeheartedly thanks the media for their support to the campaign and congratulates all entities and volunteers because their participation in such initiatives provides a prime example of responsible conduct towards our country’s coastal and marine environment, for others to follow.