By Chan Kung*
Climate, population and living space are fundamental conditions for humankind to survive and thrive.
Being an intercontinental sea that boasts waves gentler than usual, various winding coastlines and home to many isles, the Mediterranean Sea is a place blessed in abundance of natural harbors, making it a key passageway within the international maritime trade route that links three major continents together. History has it that when the earth turned cold, it drove its inhabitants away from the northern hemisphere and further down to the south of the equator, right where the Mediterranean Sea is located.
Over time, the people who settled down around the Mediterranean Basin became the cradle of human civilizations. Consequently, this allowed its inhabitants to flourish in maritime trading, which then gave rise to the civilizations that people have come to know, such as Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. The Mediterranean coastlines was home to the Phoenicians (now Lebanese), the Cretans, the Greeks and much later, the Portuguese and the Spaniards too, all who made up the flourishing maritime community. Coincidentally, it was also the birthplace to many famed explorers, such as Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan, all who hailed from the surrounding area.
Europe can be seen as an extension of the Mediterranean Sea brought to life by its technological advancement and culture. It is a part of the Mediterranean civilization and will always be considered its continuation. Historically speaking, civilizations never, if ever do thrive in higher latitude, another way of saying it is impossible for humans to survive there given the harsh and brutal conditions of the land.
That said, the global warming brought about by long years of industrial revolution and technological advancement has brought down the temperature in some parts of the land there and it eventually created habitable zones for people to live in. As a result of that, people begun moving away from the Mediterranean and further into the regions of higher latitude to settle down, where Europe eventually came to be.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam, three of the world’s largest religions, originated in the Mediterranean too before each respective religion’s followers decided to spread the teachings of their faith to the world’s end from the Mediterranean. From the spiritual level to the real world, the events in the Mediterranean has had a profound impact on the world. Every single happening, every single incident and every single moment, they have all had a hand in shaping the world history.
Between the 16th to the 19th centuries, the slave trading industry was extremely prevalent and booming in the Mediterranean, though it was predominantly the Europeans who engaged in it. Back then, missionary ships who roamed the waters of the Mediterranean Sea often became easy targets for the Barbary Corsairs, or the Barbary Pirates, a group of pirates hailing from North Africa. These pirates, known for their act of plundering and pillaging ships for goods, were typically known to station their bases closer to the Moroccan coastline and the Barbary Coastlines, which consisted the trinity of Tunisia, Algeria and Tripoli coastlines.
The name “Barbary” derives from the word “Berbers”, a term used to describe an ethnic group of people indigenous to North Africa. Initially, the Barbary Pirates started out in the west of the Mediterranean Sea, over time however, they expanded their activities further down south, to the coastlines of West Africa and eventually to South America.
In fact, the furthest they have expanded their empire was to the north, Iceland to be precise. Apart from hijacking ships, they were also infamous for raiding countless European coastal towns and villages. The reason behind their raids was to abduct Christians with the intention of selling them off to the Ottoman empire and Arabia, where slavery was rampant and highly in demand, in exchange for a ludicrous amount of gold.
In fact, according to an entry by Italian Renaissance and Pre-Modern Mediterranean history professor Robert Davis, the Barbary Pirates had enslaved a total of 1 to 1.25 million Europeans between the 16th to the 19th centuries and had only ceased to exist nearing the 19th century, where they were eventually subdued and put of commission when the French colonized the Algeria, bringing the Europeans the peace they desperately sought for so long.
The Mediterranean was not merely some pioneer of the world’s earliest human civilizations in history; it continues to play an important role in today’s modern society, where like in the past, every single occurrence that takes place in the Mediterranean determines the fate of the world.
At present, the Mediterranean is plagued with the issue of a massive shortage in its fish stocks. It is common knowledge to many that the world is currently experiencing a refugee crisis, and that the dwindling fish stocks is the cause of it. The Mediterranean’s fishing industry was booming mid-19th century. Since 1950, the continent had experienced a steady growth in the number of fishes caught with the numbers reaching 1.95 million tons of fishes in 1982, and 1.97 million tons of fishes in 1988 respectively. In 1991 however, the figure plummeted to 1.28 million ton of fishes, and continued to worsen from thereon. This was largely due to the fact that there was a surge in demand for tunas, which translated to a hike in price. This resulted in the Mediterranean Sea seeing an increase in the arrival of foreign fishing vessels or ships in its waters and the use fishery technology far more advanced from its competitors to capitalize on the hype. Left with no options, the hype eventually drove many coastal states to implement fishing laws that bans the use of drift netting and longline fishing, in an attempt to maintain a fair competition as well as to prevent a complete depletion in the continent’s fishing stock.
To make matters worse, the issue was also further exacerbated through the severe environmental pollution happening in the Mediterranean, due to the erected water dams that have been obstructing the flow of river and stream currents into the ocean, which in turn raises the salinity in the Sea of Azov by a thousand times higher. The rise in the sea’s salinity, coupled with the presence of a water dam then deprived the fishes of the ability to reproduce and relocate their offspring efficiently, severely affecting the population of fish native to the Mediterranean.
In a report titled the Elasmobranches of the Mediterranean And Black Sea: Status, Ecology, And Biology Bibliographic Analysis published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) dated March 14, 2012, the FAO stated that the fishing activities that has occurred in the Mediterranean Seas from 200 years up to this point has effectively caused the number of sharks in the area to shrink by 97% and that if the situation were to persist, the sharks will soon be forced on to the brink of extinction.
As of today, the fishing community in the Mediterranean is not only plagued with the issue of living in war-torn countries, they’re also forced to put up with the possibility of losing their jobs as result of the depletion in the Mediterranean’s fishing stock. Likewise, many Libyans, Moroccans and Tunisians have now turned to smuggling refugees across the European borders to make a living, seeing that fishing scene in the Mediterranean is on a slippery slope to ruins. Some have even resorted to selling their fishing boats off to join the bandwagon of refugees looking to gain a safe passage into Europe.
In fact, when asked about the current state of fishing stock in the Mediterranean Seas, certain foreign fishing community like the French fishing community seems to believe the sea is dead. According to French, there are more plastic wastes than fishes to be found in the sea and this leaves them with no choice but to scavenge for plastics in exchange for some money under the European environmental subsidies.
Put simply, the refugee crisis that is taking place in the Mediterranean is an ecological crisis, one that first affected the Mediterranean, then Europe and now, the United States of America, as evident by the migrant caravan longing to gain access into the country in search of a better life. The presence of these refugee crisis has sowed quite the aggressive and extreme reaction within politicians worldwide, leading to a tensed confrontation between each party in the political scene particularly the right-wing parties, otherwise known as the conservatives, which motivated them to enter into the political arena to protest against the act of granting asylum to the refugees, either by shaping the order of the country or through amending the country’s law and trade rules or simply just changing the entire country itself.
On a closing note, it needs to be stressed time and time again that the events taking place in the Mediterranean has a profound effect on the rest of the world, be it past or present. After all, the Mediterranean was the epicenter of human civilization, and as it stands, that will always be fact and not just a mere historical opinion. As it did in the olden day, the ebb and flow the events happening in the Mediterranean will continue to determine the fate of the world.
*Founder of Anbound Think Tank in 1993, Chan Kung is now ANBOUND Chief Researcher. Chan Kung is one of China’s renowned experts in information analysis. Most of Chan Kung‘s outstanding academic research activities are in economic information analysis, particularly in the area of public policy.