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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 08:37 GMT 09:37 UK
Bag threat to Gulf wildlife
The Gulf's dolphins are threatened by pollution
By Caroline Hawley in Amman

Environmentalists in Jordan are launching a campaign to rid the Gulf of Aqaba of plastic bags which threaten coral and fish.

The Gulf of Aqaba where Jordan, Egypt and the southern tip of Israel meet, is home to dolphins, hundreds of different species of fish and spectacular coral.

But environmentalists say the Red Sea's marine life is under threat from an array of pollutants - from phosphate factories to plastic bags.

It is the humble but "deadly" plastic bag that Friends of the Earth Middle East is targeting in its latest campaign which aims to make the Gulf of Aqaba a "plastic bag free zone".

The group says plastic bags take 1,000 years to decompose on land and 450 years to decompose in sea water.

Plastic threat

"People don't dispose of them properly and then they blow in to the sea and choke the corals and fish," says the campaign's project manager, Yana Abu Taleb.

Sea bird entangled in rubbish
Beach rubbish threatens marine birds

"Dolphins and sea-turtles sometimes mistake them for jellyfish and die because they suffocate trying to eat them," she adds.

Friends of the Earth is urging local residents and visitors to the southern Jordanian town of Aqaba to "say no to plastic bags" and to encourage shopkeepers to use recycled bags or non-plastic alternatives.

But plastic bags are by no means the only threat to the Gulf of Aqaba.

"The main pollutants are phosphate factories and fish farms," says Sultan Abdul Rahman, who also works for Friends of the Earth. "Divers are also causing a lot of damage."

It is a problem that affects both Israeli and Jordanian waters.

No co-operation

But Friends of the Earth Middle East - a consortium of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanians environmentalists that grew out of the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan - says Israelis and Jordanians can no longer work together to solve it.

Joint action isn't possible any more, because of the Al-Aqsa intifada

Abu Taleb, FOE Middle East

Co-operation has fallen victim to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Friends of the Earth's Israel branch will launch its own campaign against plastic bags in the Israeli resort of Eilat later in August.

But the group's Jordanian and Israeli members have not actually met since the Palestinian uprising broke out last September.

"Joint action isn't possible any more, because of the Al-Aqsa intifada," says Abu Taleb.

"It's been very hard to co-operate so for the time being we're implementing our activities separately," he adds.

See also:

30 Jan 01 | Middle East
Iran proposes anti-pollution force
25 Sep 00 | Middle East
The Holy Land's poisonous river
06 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Beach rubbish harms sealife
18 Feb 00 | Europe
Nets blamed for dolphin disaster
28 Jun 99 | Sci/Tech
Boats' bottoms damage marine life
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