Divers in the Philippines have discovered single use face masks and other PPE covering precious coral reefs and being consumed by marine life as the impact of lockdown takes its toll on the environment.
While the media and groups like the World Economic Forum have have hailed the impact of lockdown, celebrating it for reducing CO2 emissions and creating “quieter cities,” the real environmental impact has gone largely unreported.
“Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is washing up on coral reefs close to the Philippine capital, Manila,” reports BBC News. “According to an estimate by the Asian Development Bank, during the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak, the city could have been generating up to 280 tonnes of extra medical waste per day.”
Divers from Anilao Scuba Dive Centre explained how they studied the coral reef after the country’s initial lockdown and found that it was littered with masks and PPE.
“Just ten minutes into the dive, we saw around 10-12 masks and we never had that before,” said one of the divers.
Trash collected by the divers included lots of blue single use face masks in addition to face shields and other COVID-19 related junk.
According to the report, the masks will end up either in a landfill or back in the sea.
“And that’s a problem because polymers inside the surgical masks are breaking down into microplastics, easily consumed by marine wildlife and the coral reefs that nurture them,” said the reporter.
Divers say what they have seen in terms of masks littering the ocean is “the tip of the iceberg.”
As we highlighted back in December, a report by OceansAsia concluded that around 1.5 billion face masks will be dumped into the sea and further contaminate the oceans with harmful plastic and damage vulnerable marine ecosystems.
“Marine plastic pollution kills 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, over a million seabirds, and even greater numbers of fish, invertebrates, and other marine life,” states the report, noting that penguins in Brazil have been found dead with masks inside their stomach.
The masks will contribute an estimated 7,000 tons of plastic to the oceans, adding to the 269,000 tonnes already polluting the water.
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