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How discarded face masks are threatening wildlife

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Environmental group OceansAsia has reported that 1.56 billion masks ended up in oceans in 2020.

A dolphin pokes its head out the water.
Coronavirus waste is threatening wildlife and marine animals. Picture: Jay Park from Pixabay

WHILE face masks and surgical gloves have been used globally to protect people during the Covid-19 pandemic, they are now posing a deadly threat to wildlife and marine animals.

Various countries have eased lockdown regulations, allowing people to once again return to work and use the beaches and other public spaces.

The new normal entails wearing a face mask and, in some cases, gloves; however, single-use masks and gloves are casually being discarded and are ending up in the ocean.

Environmental group OceansAsia reported that 1.56 billion masks ended up in oceans in 2020, according to an estimate based on the 52 billion masks globally produced.

Coronavirus waste accounts for 6,200 extra tons of marine pollution.

“Gloves are often probably confused by animals like sea turtles as food,” scientist George Leonard told South China Morning Post.

“Most masks have loops to get around your ears and we think that’s likely to be an entanglement hazard for fish, sea turtles and seabirds as well,” he said.

In Malaysia, macaques have been seen playing with and chewing disposable masks; in the UK, rescuers found a bird tangled in the straps of a mask; and a conservationist in Brazil found a mask inside the stomach of a dead penguin.

“It’s now completely new, we didn’t have this before. It was exceptional to find a glove (in the ocean) and I had never seen a mask before,” Laurent Lombard, founder of Opération Mer Propre, told TRT World.

“For a month now, we’re starting to see these masks in our environment. It’s a new type of pollution.

“People are wearing masks on the street and when they remove them, they throw them on the ground and 80% of the trash in the sea comes from the land,” he said.

– African News Agency (ANA)