Pandemic’s Another Face – Disposable Masks Spark Surge in Global Ocean Pollution
These shocking images show the devastating impact throwaway facemasks are having on the health of our oceans after washing up among coral reefs in a diver’s paradise.
The coronavirus pandemic has sparked a surge in pollution, adding to the glut of plastic waste that is already threatening marine life with masks floating like jellyfish and waterlogged gloves scattered across seabeds.
Environmentalists have warned how gentle sea creatures like turtles, which live in the tropical waters close to the Phillipine capital of Manila where these pictures were taken, will be unable to separate their food from the plastic waste.
Seabirds can also get their feet entangled in the straps. Since March 2020, the RSPCA said it has had to help more than 900 animals caught up in PPE, with the majority being birds.
The images were taken by a group of professional divers from the Anilao Scuba Dive Center for BBC Asia, on their first visit to the stunning reef since lockdown.
Diver Shala Caliao said the pollution of the water had got worse with face masks now joining plastic bottles and food wrappers in the once pristine waters.
“Within 10 minutes into the dive we saw about 12 masks and we had never seen that before.
“Some had been there for months.”
added: “When I first saw the masks, I honestly felt guilty and sad because I’ve used a blue PPE mask that is so easy to throw away.”
They’re now urging the Philippine government to improve its handling of medical waste, to prevent further pollution of the seas.
An estimated 194 billion disposable masks and gloves are being used worldwide every month as a result of the pandemic, according to a study in Environmental Science and Technology.
Most single use PPE is made from a variety of plastics, including polypropylene, polyethylene and vinyl which means they can take up to 450 years to break down.
Even then, the plastic stays around as tiny microplastics.
These particles have been found all over the world including the Arctic and Antarctic.
Greenpeace Philippines urged those who are not medical professionals or in high risk categories to swap tto reusable face coverings.
The organisation said:" Wearing face masks is now part of our daily lives. But this has been shown to have an adverse effect on the environment.
"We can do something about it by factoring in the planet in choosing the mask we use and how we use it."
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