The eastern Mediterranean is dying

By | December 16, 2019

Peter Schwartzstein writes:

Most of the world’s seas are in some kind of environmental trouble, but few have declined as quickly or from such precipitous heights as the Mediterranean’s eastern edge. Although it midwifed some of history’s greatest civilizations, the eastern Med has become a grubby embodiment of the current littoral states’ failures. Where the ancients sailed, many of their successors now junk industrial waste. The accomplishments of the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, and pharaonic Egyptians, among others, have only accentuated their descendants’ political and economic rot.

In recent years, the eastern Med has come to something of a “now or never” moment to salvage, or savage, the sea once and for all. Big, new offshore gas finds have set the countries along its banks against one another as they jockey for a share of the riches. Renewed great-power games, particularly over Syria, have turned the sea into even more of a geopolitical battleground. In some parts of it, warships and air forces from as far afield as Pakistan warily crisscross its waters. With much of Europe fixated on migrant flows across the Continent’s southern border, there are more obstacles to addressing the eastern Med’s environmental woes than ever before.

An awful lot is riding on this moment. The Med is warming at one of the fastest paces in the world (up to 0.12 degrees Celsius, or 0.216 Fahrenheit a year, on the surface), and it is choked with plastic. Though the Mediterranean constitutes less than 1 percent of the world’s oceans, it holds 7 percent of its microplastics. The coastal states continue to sully the sea with tons of everything from shipping oil to untreated sewage, meaning there’s scarcely an untarnished ecosystem left. (It’s a similar story on land: Naval bases sit alongside garbage-strewn beaches and coastal dump sites—relatively high military budgets juxtaposed with penniless environment ministries.) For the millions of people who depend on the Med for employment, and the many millions more who treasure it as a “blue lung” in a region of sometimes suffocating heat and claustrophobic cities, the sea’s struggles threaten to become their own. [Continue reading…]

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