During the pandemic, masks and gloves were added to the list of things usually thrown into the garbage that the seas and oceans regularly return to their sandy shores, which serve as protection against coronavirus infection.
Last year, beach volunteers found discarded protective equipment (PPE) on the shores of the US East and West coasts, from New Jersey to California. In Scotland, members of the Society for the Protection of the Seas found PPE on almost one in four beaches. Clean Ocean Action, a New Jersey-based environmental group, said in an annual report that 1,113 masks and other virus protection items were added to items commonly found on the state’s beaches, including plastic, cigarette butts and brown paper.
“Used as intended, coronavirus protection items save lives,” said Cindy Zimf, head of the organization. “Incorrectly disposed of, they kill life at sea.” According to the international organization Ocean Conservancy, 107,000 PPE items were collected by volunteers in the second half of 2020. But these data, of course, are far from complete, according to representatives of the organization. “Once in the external environment, these disposable items are likely to never completely dissolve, but will disintegrate into smaller and smaller pieces, existing indefinitely,” said one of the leaders of the organization. “This means that the harm they cause will be cumulative.”
Environmentalists watched as seabirds became entangled in the behind-the-ear straps of protective masks. They fear that some of the inhabitants of the sea may eat gloves and masks, mistaking them for food, which will seriously harm them.