The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted industry and travel throughout the world. In some cases prompting clearer skies as sources of pollution have been shut off for months, but this silver lining may be short lived.
Disposable masks and latex gloves are now clogging waterways and filling the ocean. Divers call it “Covid waste,” The Guardian reports, and it’s posing an even bigger threat to marine life than many may realize.
Divers working with French non-profit Opération Mer Propre first noticed the new pollution while swimming in waters along the Côte d’Azur.
“It’s the promise of pollution to come if nothing is done,” said OMP member Joffrey Peltier.
“Would you like this summer to swim with the COVID 19…?” OMP member Laurent Lombard wrote on Facebook. “Knowing that more than 2 billion disposable masks have been ordered, soon there will be more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean…!
It is the responsibility of everyone in order to avoid this new pollution but also our elected officials, MPs and public authorities. Indeed, for several years some common people have been trying to fight all these incivilities that are destroying our environment and our long-term health, so it might be time to unite all the right initiatives to solve this new pollution as quickly and firmly.
The health crisis has allowed us to see the best and worst in us, if we do nothing it’s the worst that will happen when it’s simply a matter of common sense to avoid all of this.
“I would just say to end that a disposable mask is thrown in the trash like any other waste for that matter,” he continued.
Lombard ‘s post included a video of the Covid-waste-littered landscape of the ocean floor near Antibes.
The French aren’t the only ones sizing up this issue. OceansAsia, based in Hong Kong, has reported finding dozens of masks in the otherwise uninhabited Soko Islands.
“On a beach about 100 meters long, we found about 70,” OceansAsia’s Gary Stokes told the Guardian. “Thirty more masks were found a week later, he said. “And that’s on an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere.”
Before the pandemic forced people indoors and slowed the traffic of major shipping routes, there was great concern over the amount of plastic waste that is dumped into the ocean. A 2018 estimate by UN Environment.places the yearly total around 13 million metric tons. Much of this plastic floats into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or erodes away into microplastics which choke marine wildlife to death.
Covid waste brings with it an even more dangerous threat, as the masks may contain toxic compounds like polypropylene. Moreover, they can harbor the coronavirus for up to three days, potentially passing the disease along to others swimming nearby. Some waste collection facilities have drastically adjusted the way they collect these materials, or refused to collect them at all, on the basis of such a risk.
See for yourself how much of a problem this has become in the video below.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.