One catch at a time, Lefteris Arapakis is cleaning the Mediterranean.
It was Lefteris Arapakis’s first expedition on a fishing boat, and he didn’t expect what the nets would pull up.
There were scorpionfish, red mullet and sea bream. But there was also a bright red can of Coke.
Arapakis, whose family had plied the waters near Athens for five generations, pulled the can out of the net and turned it over to look at the sell-by date stamped on the bottom. 1987. Seven years older than him. It had been in the Mediterranean for almost three decades.
He was still staring at the can when a fisherman grabbed it out of his hand and tossed it back into the water.
“That’s not what we’re paid to catch,” Arapakis recalled the fisherman saying.
Every day, the fishing boat — and thousands just like it on the crystalline Mediterranean — caught old bottles, plastic foam, flip-flops and other detritus in its nets. And every day, its crew tossed everything back into the undulating waters, only hauling back what would bring cash.
So Arapakis, now 28, had an idea: He would try to convince the fishing industry to treat plastic as a catch. In 2016, he launched a nonprofit focused on sea cleanup and fishing education called Enaleia, a play on Greek words that calls to mind sustainable fishing. Once the fishers brought the plastic ashore, he would recycle it and pay them for their trouble. Six years into the project, he has signed up more than half of Greece’s large-scale fishing fleet — hundreds of ships — to pull in the plastic they gather as they ply the Mediterranean. He plans to keep expanding globally…