The UN Environment Program (UNEP) awarded last week the honorary title of Ambassador for the Mediterranean Coast for 2021-22 to Lefteris Arapakis, a young activist who is fighting to save the fishing industry in Greece.
Awarded as part of UNEP’s Mediterranean Action Plan, the title is “a recognition of the team’s work and shows us that we are on the right path, doing something that is having an impact,” says Arapakis, the founder of Enaleia, a startup that trains and incentivizes the local fishing community to collect plastic from the sea.
“It is a recognition of all the professional fishermen and all our associates in the battle against marine pollution from plastic,” adds the fifth-generation Piraeus fisherman, who was also named Europe’s Young Champion of the Earth by UNEP in 2020, at the age of 26.
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 “obsolete”
“Fishing methods in Greece are completely obsolete. We are still hurting the environment,” Arapakis stated forcefully 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.
Arapakis adapts fishing in Greece to a green future
Emaleia 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 sea life 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.