Durres, Albania – The pristine white beach that stretches for miles here is one of Albania's most popular holiday destinations. But the water is a toxic brew, contaminated with untreated sewage and industrial pollutants.
Durres's pollution is among the region's worst, labeled in 2006 by the European Union as a hot spot. But across the Mediterranean, millions of tons of pollution and waste are emptied into the sea each year, according to the United Nations.
Some comes from factories or the runoff from agriculture. But untreated sewage is also a major cause.
More than half the sewage from Mediterranean coastal development seeps into the sea untreated. Although that percentage is lower than in some other parts of the world – in Latin America, 80 percent of sewage is untreated – the problem is particularly acute in the Mediterranean, whose closed geography means that it takes 100 years to renew its waters.
In 1997, the countries of the Mediterranean set ambitious goals to reduce pollution that flows into the sea. But the UN-sponsored Blue Plan says implementation has been weak.
European countries, for example, have made strides toward connecting cities to sewage systems, but often waste is improperly treated. In southern Europe, fewer than 50 percent of people are connected to a treatment plant.
On the sea's southern and eastern coasts, many cities and developments lack waste facilities and store sewage in septic tanks. But as populations grow, these cannot adequately absorb the waste and much of it seeps into groundwater or the sea.