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Greek Climate Activist Named Europe’s "Young Champion of the Earth" by UN

ENALEIA’s Lefteris Arapakis. Credit: UN Environment Programme/YouTube

Lefteris Arapakis, a 26-year old Greek climate activist and entrepreneur, was named “Young Champion of the Earth” for Europe by the United Nations on December 11.

A graduate of the Athens University of Economics and Business, in 2017 Arapakis co-founded ENALEIA, a social startup inspired by Greece’s climate and economic crisis that teaches the unemployed sustainable fishing practices.

ENALEIA was the first school for professional fishermen anywhere in the country.

Greek Reporter spoke to Arapakis about his mission to attract more people into the fishing sector by creating conditions for ongoing sustainable fishing in the future during an interview in 2019.

The fishing industry has faced substantial criticism by environmental activists, who cite severely reduced fish populations, damaged sensitive marine ecosystems, and increasingly polluted seas that have resulted from overfishing.

“Fishing methods in Greece are completely obsolete. We are still hurting the environment,” Arapakis stated in an interview with Greek Reporter.

Arapakis, who comes from a long line of fishermen, understood that while these criticisms may be valid, fishing makes up a huge portion of Greece’s economy.

After intensive research, Arapakis created a plan to teach new and old fishermen both how to catch fish and protect the sea simultaneously.

“We teach our students not just how to fish, but also how to fish so fish can exist tomorrow,” said Arapakis, speaking to Greek Reporter.

Fishing boat in Patitiri, Alonissos. Credit: Patricia Claus/Greek Reporter

ENALEIA teaches fishing practices that preserve local fish populations and remove the mounds of plastic waste that pollute the world’s seas, adapting the fishing industry for a green future.

After witnessing Greek fishermen pulling up tons of plastics in their nets along with fish — and then inexplicably throwing the plastic back into the sea — Arapakis set out to help solve this problem, which has devastated sealife across the globe.

Plastic pollution poses huge risks to both marine and human life, since fish, reptiles, and marine mammals eat plastics and are unable to digest them, leading to their death.

Additionally, eating fish that have consumed microscopic pieces of plastic has been proven to be harmful to our own health.

Loggerhead seaturtle. Credit: AMNA

Hoping to fight the further pollution of the Mediterranean, Arapakis teamed up with hundreds of fishermen from Greece and Italy to collect the plastic waste filling our seas, bringing in 1.5 tons of plastics weekly to be used for recycling and upcycling.

ENALEIA sends a large amount of plastics dredged up from the Mediterranean to companies that convert the waste into fashionable clothing and useful everyday items.

While ENALEIA currently operates only in the Mediterranean, Arapakis’ ultimate goal is to bring the work of sustainable fishing and marine cleanups to all of the seas across the globe.

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