COVID-19, OceansAsia

We have seen some remarkable stories of how nature is bouncing back as many countries implement lockdown procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic, but true to form, this has now thrown up another threat to our oceans – in the forms of discarded face masks and gloves.

With more and more people wearing face masks and gloves to ‘protect’ against COVID-19, even though there is plenty of evidence that the only people who really benefit from their use are frontline health workers, it sadly seems only too predictable that these items would end up in our oceans after being carelessly disposed of.

Social media has been filled with images of discarded gloves littering streets and car parks around the world, which can cause a potential health risk in themselves, but now they are finding their way into our waterways and oceans across the world.

With their bright colours and soft construction, they can be easily mistaken as food by turtles, seabirds and other marine animals. Not only that, but many contain materials that do no recycle and are not biodegradable – surgical masks, for instance, are made using non-woven fabrics, including plastics like polypropylene.

Back in February, conservation group OceansAsia reported finding dozens of surgical masks scattered on Hong Kong beaches as they conducted a year-long research project into marine debris and micro-plastics, and their use has grown much more widespread across the planet since then.

Co-founder Gary Stokes said: “The way I see these masks in the environment is just another addition to the ever-growing marine debris crisis our oceans are facing. No better, no worse, just shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

He added: “I’m waiting to hear of the first necropsy that finds masks inside a dead marine animal – it’s not a question of if, but when.”


Photo credit: OceansAsia

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