In 2020, 1.56 billion masks hit the oceans

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“It is estimated that by 2048 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans,” – ocean protection expert

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, photos of smog-free skies have been posted on social media from Los Angeles to New Delhi. As more and more people stayed at home, it seemed that one of the benefits was a positive impact on the environment. But now, a little over a year later, the pandemic persists, and a new environmental problem has arisen: increased pollution of personal protective equipment (PPE).

An estimated 129 billion masks and 65 billion gloves are used monthly. Unfortunately, while PPE is a necessary tool, its increased use is having detrimental effects on the environment, especially the oceans. Writes about this ABC News.

According to a report released by Hong Kong-based ocean conservation group OceansAsia, about 1.56 billion masks ended up in the oceans in 2020 alone, at the time of the outbreak of the pandemic.

Andriana Fragola, marine biologist and shark expert at One Ocean Diving, a Hawaiian shark diving company, sees firsthand the impact of discarded PPE on the ocean.

“There is definitely an increase in what we see with masks,” Fragola said. “We are at a tipping point right now. It is estimated that by 2048 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans … With all the plastic used, especially with the ongoing pandemic, that moment is fast approaching. ”

What makes face masks dangerous to marine life is the microplastics that form from disposable masks, Britta Bäckler, senior manager of ocean plastics at Ocean Conservancy, told GMA. “Microplastics are tiny pieces of synthetic material that are either deliberately made small or broken from larger plastic items,” she said. “They pose such a problem because they are stable in a wide variety of different environments … and they just cycle through different environments and different animals for very long periods of time and never disappear.”

The Ocean Conservancy is an American non-profit organization dedicated to keeping the oceans clean. The group hosts an annual International Coastal Cleanup with volunteers from around the world. The group recently analyzed items found during the last cleanup and reported that their volunteers removed 107,219 PPE items from beaches and waterways in just the second half of 2020. Among the items that their volunteers found and registered were face masks, gloves, face masks and disinfectant wipes. …

However, the group said the report is a grossly underreporting figure, and Bäckler believes the global number is likely closer to the “million low”.