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Face masks, gloves found littering seabeds

Improper disposal raises environmental concerns

Environmental organizations are raising alarm about growing ocean pollution caused by increased waste created out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Millions of people around the globe have donned disposable face masks and latex gloves, and while it helps slow the spread of the virus, they also may be disposed of incorrectly, groups warn.

In a video posted on Facebook, Laurent Lombard of Opération Mer Propre, a French nonprofit that works on ocean cleanups, according to the Guardian, wrote that “soon there will be more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean.”

Lombard’s video showed disposable gloves and masks littering the bottom of a seabed off the coast of Antibes on the French Riviera.

Joffrey Peltier of Opération Mer Propre told the Guardian that divers have begun to notice more “COVID waste,” or masks, gloves and plastic bottles of hand sanitizer. While the quantities have not been overwhelming, “it’s the promise of pollution to come if nothing is done,” Peltier told the newspaper. Hong Kong-based OceansAsia has also raised similar concerns as the group found dozens of masks in marine debris in the city’s uninhabited Soko Islands, the Guardian reported.

“On a beach about 100 meters long, we found about 70,” OceansAsia’s Gary Stokes told the newspaper. Thirty more masks were found a week later, he said. “And that’s on an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere.”

In the United States, environmental organizations have raised similar worries about growing plastic pollution because of COVID-19.

Nick Mallos, senior director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program, said that improper disposal of medical waste has long posed a threat to oceans and waterways.

Additionally, more people may be using single-use plastics like takeout containers or nonreusable bags at grocery stores. While there’s a need to balance public health with environmental impact, Mallos said these sorts of changes are concerning given both plastics’ harm to the environment and initial research that shows plastic can harbor the virus for up to two to three days.

Environmental activists have warned about pollution in oceans for years. A United Nations report from 2018 found that roughly 13 million metric tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year. That pollution can harm biodiversity, the economy and health, the U.N. report says.

Mallos said Ocean Conservancy is working to track any increase in ocean waste during the pandemic. While the evidence is anecdotal thus far, it won’t be surprising to see an uptick once empirical data comes out, he said.

Contributing: Doyle Rice

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