Free-diving champ highlights pollution in Bosphorus

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Turkey’s multiple world-record holder and free-diving champion Şahika Ercümen has dived into the Bosphorus to highlight plastic waste pollution littering the strait.

Ercümen, who last month became a “life below water advocate” of the United Nations, made her first dive to observe life and pollution in the Bosphorus with the support of the General Directorate of Coastal Safety for July 1 Maritime and Cabotage Day.

The athlete, who made her first dive around the Maiden Tower, the second dive off the Ahırkapı Lighthouse and the third dive in front of the Ortaköy Mosque, collected a large number of waste materials.

“I can unfortunately say that I dived into plastic waste,” she told state-run Anadolu Agency.

“I don’t know how the fish can live here, and I don’t know how we can trust and eat this seafood,”Ercümen said, adding that she even had a hard time swimming.

“Everywhere is full of waste,” she said. “We tried to remove gloves, masks, bottles, disinfectants, plastic bags, but it is not something that we can do. One of the most beautiful places in the country and in the world is about to drown in plastic waste.”

She said that the seas have been her living space for the last 25 years and stressed she has been observing that the fish population was decreasing, being replaced with wastes that are increasing every year.

“I have been swimming among plastics more than fish in recent years,” Ercümen said.

“We find some of our sea creatures in need of help, for example, sea turtles, such as the Caretta caretta, with plastic bags or nets attached around their necks, with many of them dying.”

Ercümen said the amount of waste masks and gloves has increased during the pandemic.

“First of all, the fact that they are discarded without proper isolation carries a great risk for the spread of the virus,” she said.

“And it adds to our existing plastic waste problem. We have non-recyclable bottles, masks, gloves and even hand sanitizer bottles in our seas. What we must all do is to use designated containers for such waste.”

Ercümen said she will continue her efforts to raise awareness on sea pollution.

“It is not possible for me to clean the seas by diving,” she added.

“In fact, only 15 percent of the waste we see is on the sea surface, 85 percent is in deep waters and it is not possible to easily clean them. What we are doing is trying to raise awareness, because sea pollution affects our planet, even the air we breathe.”

Ercümen noted that she was proud to have been declared a “life below water advocate” by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“The UNDP has great teams all over the world,” she said.

“Together we decided to start studies to protect the oceans and seas both in our country and in the world. This is a global issue, because a waste thrown into the sea in Italy may wash ashore in Turkey. So, actually, what we’re trying to do is to stop a global problem.”

Hurriyet Daily News

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