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Clean-up of Maltese seas hauls over 140kg of plastic

The rib used to collect litter from the sea.

The rib used to collect litter from the sea.

The ‘Clean the Seas’ project launched in July by online gam­ing company Mr Green, in collaboration with the University of Malta, came to an end last month. The result was a massive haul of 140 kilograms of plastic collected from Maltese coastal waters.

Mr Green is committed to sustainability, both in terms of responsible gaming as well as business ethics and the environment. Through this project, the company embarked on a structured initiative during the summer months to clean Maltese coastal waters and spread awareness about the health of the Mediterranean Sea.

Participating in the project were company employees, students from the University of Malta and MSc students studying marine environmental management at the University of York, UK, under the direction of Alan Deidun.

One of the larger items collected during the initiative.One of the larger items collected during the initiative.

In order to efficiently monitor progress during the project the Maltese coastline was split into four distinct search routes. The routes were designed to include all coastal habitats including bays, harbours and isolated coves around the whole of Malta. Each route was visited by rotation each week, with a litter collection day  covering each route. Each of the four routes were visited a total of five times for the purposes of data collection.

On each day of collection, there were four spotters based on a rib, one of whom was also the skipper. Collection relied upon sightings from the rib by any of the four spotters. Any litter spotted was collected either by hand or using a net provided by Mr Green.

In cases were items were missed, the rib was readjusted so the litter could be successfully collected. In some areas where a lot of litter had gathered it was necessary to go through  the area several times so that no litter was missed. In circumstances where large items were found, more than one person assisted in the collection.

On return to Portomaso harbour, bags and large items of litter were taken off the rib and left for half an hour to dry out. The bottoms of the bags were then punctured to drain out any excess water and each bag was weighed. The bags were then emptied and the contents catalogued and photographed to determine what kind of rubbish was collected and how much there was of each type.

Overall, 141.2kg of plastic litter was collected at sea, with the most common pollutants being bottles and bags, followed closely by plastic cups and plates. There was also a substantial amount of microplastics ‒ small plastic pieces less than five millimetres long that can be harmful to aquatic life.

The total weight did not include large items such as tables and deckchairs that were also collected during the initiative.

The Valletta port and harbours route proved to yield the most plastic litter, accounting for 36 per cent of the total, followed by the northwest coast route with just under 33 per cent.

As plastic production continues to grow and global populations rise, plastic litter will remain an obvious and very real problem to all marine environments. This project has shown that despite being a small island plastic litter around Malta is abundant and the variety of plastic found indicates that the use and subsequent disposal of plastic receives little supervision.

We are faced with a future of plastic- saturated oceans and if measures are not taken it is likely we will see a monumental change in the biology and biodiversity of our oceans

While the project only covered a tiny section of one of the most plastic polluted seas in the world, it provided an interesting insight into where the problem lies.

We are faced with a future of plastic-saturated oceans, and if measures are not taken to address the litter that is currently in the oceans, as well as ensuring that both the production and subsequent consumption of plastic is reduced on a global scale, it is likely we will see a monumental change in the biology and biodiversity of our oceans.

As a popular tourist destination, Malta will need to take steps to encourage visitors to think carefully about their own waste management and to support a reduction in their plastic consumption if they are to balance the rising pressure so many visitors place upon their waste disposal schemes.

The most common pollutants were bottles and bags, followed closely by plastic cups and plates.The most common pollutants were bottles and bags, followed closely by plastic cups and plates.

Crystal-clear waters cannot remain in such a pristine state if they are continually used as a dumping ground for litter.

Tighter controls need to be implemented to prevent both human and shipping waste from entering the marine environment around Malta, as well as improving strategies for recycling. The management strategies are, in fact, in place; it is now a case of enforcing them.

“Living in Malta, we share the greatest benefit of enjoying crystal-clear seas around us. But will it maintain its beauty and attraction for long if we do not see the damage of our own footprint and act responsibly to keep it clean and healthy for generations to come?” asked Jesper Kärrbrink, CEO of Mr Green Ltd.

“While a clean-up of this nature is a step in the right direction, the results clearly show that steps need to be taken to stop plastic entering the sea in the first place, including im­proving enforcement of recycling and reducing consumption of plastic items like bottles and single-use carrier bags.”

Sustainability practices constitute an integrated element of Mr Green’s business, and comprise part of their fundamental values. The company’s sustainability practices are consolidated under the term The Green Way, which governs how the company addresses environmental issues and personnel-related matters, as well as regulatory compliance and ethical matters related to how business is conducted.

To this effect, Mr Green is currently developing a new predictive tool whereby gaming patterns are analysed and risk behaviour can be detected early on. This tool will allow Mr Green to adapt their offering to a greater extent to customers’ risk behaviour.

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