THE ASSOCIATION “OPERATION BIG BLUE” HAS BEEN WORKING SINCE 1997 TO PRESERVE THE LEBANESE COAST FROM DAMAGE CAUSED BY POLLUTION. EMERGING FROM A PERIOD OF WAR, LEBANON IS REDISCOVERING THE NATURAL RESOURCES OF ITS COASTS. THE 17 -YEAR HISTORY OF THIS AMBITIOUS ASSOCIATION IS TOLD BY ITS CHARISMATIC PRESIDENT, IFFAT EDRIS CHATILA.
How did you get the idea to create this association?
In 1997, we were a group of 5 divers, and during every dive we saw turtles choked by plastic bags. It was really horrible – the seabed truly looked like a garbage can. In some places, you could not even see the bottom, it was so completely covered with trash. After 20 years of war, people were throwing everything into the sea; the garbage dumps were in the sea. You can’t imagine what we saw. On certain beaches the waste was a meter deep. We didn’t even know what the beach looked like underneath, if it was sand or rocks. One day after a dive, my brother said, “That’s enough! People need to know they can no longer throw trash into the water. We have to pick everything up.” That’s how it all began …
What was your first action?
Our first clean-up campaign was held in August 1997. 40,000 people participated, north to south along the entire coastline, on beaches and even underwater. The army helped us plan the logistics, and then furnished helicopters, divers, and boats. Every year since then, between 1,200 and 1,500 soldiers have helped us. We were even able to clean up the region taken by the Israelis. We had originally planned to continue these campaigns for 5 years, but each year it has been repeated, and we are always present. In 1997, certain beaches took us 6 hours to clean up; today some beaches are finished in a half hour. This year there are 3 beaches that don’t even need cleanup. What a tremendous difference!
Beach cleaning is not your only action…
Since 1997 we have developed several other activities. For example, the “blue police,” which has a role in monitoring turtles and dolphins, and also ensures the safety of people in the water, but works mostly on education. We also conducted a cleanup of rivers that carry all the solid waste into the sea.” This was a way of tackling the problem at the source. We did a lot of work in towns and villages around the rivers to educate the local populations. We also created an eco-label for beaches and municipalities, to encourage them to take better care of the environment by following certain criteria. Finally, by means of our “blue citizen” project, we’re trying to change the way people think and change their habit of throwing things anywhere. We’re trying to change attitudes with messages broadcast by schools and the media. The “blue citizen” is a citizen of the planet.
Interview by Yann Chavance
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