Antigone Kouteri, dressed in her protective wetsuit and scuba gear, jumps into Zakynthos harbour's murky waters in search of plastics — and snags her arm on a submerged object.
"It was a tire," proposes Efthymis, her patrol partner, coming up with a bottle of wasted ale. "My pleasure!" he jibs.
Zakynthos Ionian Island is one of the most untouched travel destinations in Greece, renowned for its azure waters and wonderful beaches, an atmosphere clean enough to have been a major Mediterranean nesting ground sought after by loggerhead sea turtles.
But even here, there is a serious threat to wildlife from plastic pollution.
Kateri is one of almost a dozen Aegean Rebreath volunteers, a Greek organization set up in 2017 to protect Aegean biodiversity from waste.
The team gathered four tyres, two shopping trolleys, a street lamp, metal boxes, plastic bags, dozens of plastic bottles, and a few kilometres of fishing line within three hours.
"Marine pollution is a worldwide problem, so it is (present) in Greece. In Greece, more than 70% of marine litter is plastic," says Katerina Tsagari, a scientist at the Hellenic Marine Research Center near Athens.
Tsagari says her team discovered litter in around 75% of loggerhead sea turtles tested, most of the plastic.
"Under the blue waters there's a junkyard," says Violetta Walczyk, an active Greek-Polish lawyer with Aegean Rebreath.
On Andros ' Cycladic Island, there are still mounds of waste from a collapse of the 2011 hilltop landfill in the sea below.
Aegean Rebreath has accumulated 9,000 plastic water bottles, 3.6 tons of fishing net and 289 tyres in its two years of operation.
The government readily admits that almost 40 tons of plastic waste end up every day in Greek seas.
Recently, a campaign has started to phase out single-use plastics like cups and straws — no small feat in a country with a huge market for coffee to go.
Talking to AFP last month, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that for a nation so focused on tourism, marine security was a "key priority."
Greece continues to pay the European Commission millions of euros in fines for the operation of illegal landfills.
Nevertheless, conservation efforts are still necessary. Greece, even after other European countries, removed free grocery bags last year.
"Recycling is a joke in Greece," says George Sarelakos, Aegean Rebreath's co-founder.
"Each city has its own plan, no unified approach is in force," he told AFP.
Tags : fighting against, plastics waste, marine life, Aegean volunteers ,