“Where the Gaze Falls” is a work whose main subject is the sea, where the real problem hides from our eyes. It is within the waters of the sea that the uncertainty of the future is weaving one of the most insidious plots. If we don’t want to drown in plastic in the future, we should begin by learning to respect the sea.
Every year it's estimated that between 150-500 thousand tons of macroplastics and between 70-130 thousand tons of microplastics end up in the seas of Europe. Their main destination? The Mediterranean Sea. Plastic represents 95% of waste in the open sea, on the seabed and on the beaches, and causes over 90% of damage to marine wildlife. Globally, there are about 700 marine species threatened by plastic.
Large pieces of plastic, known as macroplastics, can injure, strangle and even result in the death of marine animals. Yet it’s the smaller, more insidious fragments that have reached record concentrations in the Mediterranean Sea where there are an estimated 1.25 million fragments per square kilometer, almost four times higher than those recorded on the “plastic island” of the northern Pacific.
The Strait of Messina, which sits between the eastern tip of Sicily and the western tip of Calabria in Southern Italy, should be an earthly paradise and one of the cleanest sea areas in the world due to its strong currents, but it is not. Hundreds of meters below the surface, between the Strait’s marine canyons, lies an incredible amount of waste. The macroplastic found there is deteriorating very slowly, gradually becoming microplastic and eventually nanoplastic. These particles are ingested by fish and are the ones that could soon present a real risk for humans.
Fishing practices suffer from this pollution as well, and in the last 20 years, there has been a serious decrease in the average catch in the area. Swordfish fishing and fishing with “lampara” (two unique and ancient fishing techniques in the area) are among the fishing activities at risk of disappearance. Local fishermen say that the intense pollution of the seawater is driving a sharp decline in fish species in the Strait as they migrate towards cleaner water.
In Messina, marine biologists have been working for years to protect the sea of the Strait. Their studies, which mainly focus on edible fish, have found that 37% of fish are contaminated with plastic. The microplastic is ingested by the fish, without being absorbed by the tissues, while nanoplastic particles are so small that researchers believe they can cross biological membranes, accumulating in the internal organs of the fish. Understanding whether these particles do indeed cross biological membranes is essential for evaluating the possible risks to marine organisms and, going up the food chain, for human health. The studies about nanoplastics have just begun and, though at the moment it is difficult to foresee the possible complications, what is sure is that pollution produced by humans is already altering the entire marine ecosystem.
Serena, a Ph.D. student in Marine Biology from the University of Messina, says “Now that the damage is done, the situation of the sea cannot easily be resolved, but surely improved. How? For example by blocking all the production of what can create pollution. Honestly, it is quite sad to note the self-destructive power of man.”
“I look at the sea, I pause my sight on its vastness and I think it is one of the greatest freedoms to protect”. — Gioele, a researcher with the Department of Marine Biology at the University of Messina.