Interview to Lefteris Arapakis, Ambassador for the Coast 2021

Please tell us about Lefteris' typical day when he is at sea and when he works behind the scenes!

My typical day at sea may be a little different than what you imagine. Since I am not a mariner, and at the same time a terrible fisherman, the majority of my interactions with the fishers take place at the port, either before or after their fishing. At the port, we are able to talk with all of them when they gather, to analyze and weigh the plastic that they collect from the sea, to discuss about the weather, the sea, their profession, their worries and hopes. When I am at the sea, usually we go to fish plastic, so we sail to a few remote beaches that are not approachable by land, and where the plastic has been stockpiling for decades. So we collect that material in the fishing boats, and then facilitate the recycling and upcycling of it into new products. So my typical day starts with meetings with the rest of the Enaleia team, continues with calls, meetings, talks and emails with our stakeholders, and usually at night visiting the local port to discuss with the fishing community.

On the web is possible to find a lot of information on the valuable initiative that ENALEIA is carrying out, but what are the biggest difficulties you face every day? 

As you can imagine there are plenty of challenges that we are facing on a daily basis. To be honest though, I think most of them derive from the current mentality of people towards our work and climate change. We are a group of young people that are suggesting to work with the fishing communities, to fight marine plastic pollution. Most of the people in the local communities, including the fishermen in the beginning, don’t believe that this is possible, realistic or viable. To give you an example, we launched our work on an island in south Aegean a few weeks ago, and the port authorities and recycling factories were sure that the fishers will not collect plastic from the sea, “because this is not what fishers do here”. The first night of our operations on the island, the fishers filled the port with plastic, and everybody was in shock. Afterwards, our work on that island became much easier. So maybe to wrap it up, the main difficulty is to gain people’s trust, which we try to solve by proving to them that our solution is working.

What is the best way to change the mentality of fishermen and especially of Mediterranean citizens?

I think the best way to change the mentality of the fishermen and the Mediterranean citizens, is not to tell them what to do, but to work with them and show them how it can be done. I strongly believe that the people of the Mediterranean care deeply about the sea and the natural environment and they want to protect it. From my experience with fishermen, their mentality changes when they start to act, when they start to adopt new habits, and observe the impact of them in their daily lives. A very important note on that is that in order to have a long term, big scale, positive impact on the environment, we need to create “business” models that will allow human societies to coexist in harmony with nature. To give you an example, it is not viable to tell the fishermen to fish less, to protect the fish stocks, because they need to sustain their family. If you provide them with a sustainable alternative, such as fishing tourism, which is taking tourists to see the traditional fishing experience, then from having to catch 100 kgs of fish a day, they just have to catch 5kgs to cook for the tourists, while significantly increasing their income.

What did you give up in your every day life behaviours to protect the common good for future generations?

That is a very interesting and true point. Even though there is awareness, the actions to deal with the climate crisis are few. To be honest, I believe that one of the reasons is that the younger generation is not represented in decision making bodies, governments and organizations, yet. Even though we need to change and we want to change, we are not the ones that are actually taking the decisions for it, with a few exceptions. So, what we can do is change our own habits, for example, I stopped using single-use plastic cups for coffee (very popular in Greece), and plastic bags and replaced them with reusable ones. But the greatest impact that the new generations can create, will be if we follow humanity’s greatest tool. Organize in groups and take collective action. This is how a handful of young people in Enaleia, have mobilised thousands of fishers in the Mediterranean to tackle plastic pollution.

What would you recommend to follow your path and replicate your initiative elsewhere ... where should they start?

I would recommend them to start by talking with their local fishing community, to understand their challenges, their fears, and their hopes. In order to build trust with them, you need first to understand them. If you are able to do so, then you can also be understood, and heard. So, after working on the field, they need to find the local recycling companies that would be willing to collaborate, to make sure that this plastic will not end up in the sea again, and ideally to be integrated into the circular economy. A third action step, would be to find the representatives of the local society, municipality or port authorities, and make sure that they are on board for this project. Once these three pillars are in place, then they need to find the resources to turn the project into action. There are many different ways that somebody can do this, either by crowdfunding, individual donors, sponsors, grants, governmental funding or even investors, can help to launch this initiative and make it sustainable.

How could the Mediterranean citizen to stop the decay of the quality of our seas? Adopting sustainable behaviours ... and how to support ENALEIA in practical way?

The decay of the quality of our seas, which also is influencing our lives, is a really complicated and systemic challenge. What the Mediterranean citizen could do on a first level, is stop using single-use plastic, use the car less, eat less meat, and prefer sustainable tourism options. If somebody wants to take further action, they can create a group and plant trees, clean beaches, create art or videos to raise awareness and inspire calls to action or collect the used fishing equipment of the local fishing community and send it to a recycling factory. There are solutions, but we need to integrate them in our life and make them habits to stick with us. In order to support Enaleia, in a more practical way, they could either organize their local fishing community and synergize with us, or directly work with us to set up fishing for plastic activities in various ports in the Mediterranean.

You have been honored with two prestigious awards as Youth Champion of the Earth 2020 by UNEP and Ambassador for the coast 2021 by UNEP/MAP. What award would you really like to receive in the future? 

It is a real honor to be awarded by UNEP and by UNEP/MAP, honestly still I find it hard to believe. The award that I want is that, in a few years, more plastic will get out of the Mediterranean than inside, and then my dream is to have a plastic free Mediterranean sea, with proper waste management, less CO2 emissions, sustainable fish stocks, prosperous fishing communities and cross country synergies.

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published on 2022/03/03 15:09:00 GMT+0 last modified 2022-03-22T10:00:25+00:00