A reflection on the topic of plastic in the oceans — Interview with Mariasole Bianco, President of Worldrise

A reflection on the topic of plastic in the oceans — Interview with Mariasole Bianco, President of Worldrise

Soft&Green asked Mariasole Bianco for her thoughts on the topic of plastic in the oceans and on future scenarios. Mariasole, president of the Worldrise association, which is active in programs for the conservation and enhancement of the marine environment, is a marine biologist and science popularizer, and has a deep passion for the sea and for its protection.

What is Worldrise’s mission and what are the main activities you perform?

Worldrise is an association that acts to safeguard the marine environment through creative awareness projects that promote the change necessary to build, together, a better future for our Blue Planet. We work at an educational level in schools, at the training level with companies, and at the informative and communicative level for the general public. We carry out research projects and collaborations with public and private bodies on issues ranging from protected marine areas to the fight against plastic pollution at sea. We deal with tourism and responsible fishing and we frequently use art, from street art to music, as a communication tool to convey the important message of safeguarding the sea. Worldrise’s projects are coordinated and implemented by involving the new generations to foster knowledge and training of future keepers of the Mediterranean’s natural heritage. We believe that the solution starts from knowledge, passes through awareness and manifests itself through respect and action.

Is there a need for regulation stricter than current regulation to defend a precious common good such as the sea?

I would say we need a more rigorous and far-sighted strategy. We need to implement research, act on the conservation of the marine environment through the establishment of protected areas and on the sustainability of fishing and the enhancement of its craftsmanship and the poor species, promote responsible nature tourism and foster investments towards the blue economy. Safeguarding the sea is a concrete solution to reach many points of this strategy. In practice, what we are doing now is using the sea as if it were a bank account from which we constantly withdraw without ever paying a penny. The protected marine areas are savings books, insurance policies. They are not limitations to using the sea and its resources, but rather an investment capable of producing social and economic benefits.

It has been proven that the sea is in better health where protected marine areas exist. To this regard, what point has the 30×30 campaign reached?

According to FAO, the Mediterranean is one of the most overexploited seas in the world and protected marine areas are the best tool we have available to reverse this course. In these areas, biodiversity is protected and safeguarded with a view to sustainable development so that the beauty of the sea and its resources can also be used by future generations. For this reason Worldrise has decided to launch the Italian 30×30 campaign, in line with the EU Strategy on Biodiversity. It is a national path whose objective is to protect at least 30% of Italian seas by 2030 through the establishment of Protected Marine Areas (PMA). The 30×30 campaign aims to communicate the riches of the underwater world that populates our waters and promote the importance of its protection by involving different sectors of society united in a common action that will lead to a productive and resilient sea where the protection of biodiversity becomes a driving force for economic and social development. The campaign was launched in November 2020 and after almost a year it has managed to involve more than 30 associations, 8 media supporters, different companies and lots of people since through the social media we have recorded about 14,000 post views.

What can individual citizens do to solve the problem of pollution of seas and oceans?

The threats faced by our planet can seem overwhelming and make us feel powerless. In the face of problems such as pollution, climate change and loss of biodiversity, the individual’s initiative may seem like a drop in the ocean. And yet every drop counts. The planet’s resources have a limit, while our possibilities are endless: by working together we can change the state of things. Making a difference every day through our actions is a bit like learning to swim. First you become familiar with the water, then you learn to stay afloat and move independently, until you become a skilled swimmer and feel at ease in the new element. With the 30×30 campaign we have developed a beautiful ‘Onboard Manual’ to guide anyone who wants to embark on this path to change. This resource is completely free and can be downloaded at this link.

Are there examples of particularly virtuous experiences in the world?

Absolutely yes, and we have one right here in Italy! Torre Guaceto is an 8-km-long stretch of coast northwest of Brindisi, for a long time sadly known as a center of bad fishing practices, smuggling, black market, as well as a landing point for illegal immigration. Now, however, it is famous all over the world for the incredible redevelopment that took place thanks to the establishment of the protected marine area. In 2001, Torre Guaceto imposed a five-year ban on fishing to rebuild fish stocks that were declining catastrophically. After four years of study, artisanal fishing has been gradually reintroduced into the marine protected area and its effects are monitored. Today, only professional fishermen are allowed in the area and they can fish only with large mesh nets and go out to the sea once a week. In this way, there was a 400% increase in the fish population, a case that has become of worldwide interest that has attracted scholars from California. Not only that. To date, the fishing yield in the protected area is twice as high as that recorded outside it. Yet in the Mediterranean Sea fully protected areas cover a small percentage, less than one percent. For this reason, if we want to bring the sea back to good health, we must act in a strong and concrete way for the benefit of all. What we are experiencing are crucial years for the health of the ocean, and the decisions we make over the next decade will affect the future of our planet for centuries to come.