Divers in the Philippines have discovered single-use face masks and other PPE covering precious coral reefs and being eaten by marine life as the impact of the lockdown takes its toll on the environment.
While media and groups like the World Economic Forum have praised the impact of the lockdown, celebrating it for reducing CO2 emissions and creating “calmer cities,” the real impact on the environment has remained largely. ignored.
“Personal protective equipment (PPE) is washing up on coral reefs near the Philippine capital, Manila,” BBC News reports. “According to an estimate by the Asian Development Bank, during the peak of the Covid-19 epidemic, the city could have generated up to 280 tonnes of additional medical waste per day.”
Divers from Anilao Dive Center explained how they surveyed the coral reef after the country’s initial lockdown and found it to be littered with masks and PPE.
“Just ten minutes into the dive we saw around 10 to 12 masks and we had never had this before,” said one of the divers.
The waste collected by the divers included many single-use blue face masks in addition to face shields and other COVID-19-related waste.
According to the report, the masks will end up either in a landfill or in the sea.
“And that’s a problem because the polymers inside surgical masks break down into microplastics, easily consumed by marine life and the coral reefs that feed them,” the reporter said.
Divers say what they’ve seen in terms of masks littering the ocean is “the tip of the iceberg.”
As we pointed out in December, a report by OceansAsia concluded that around 1.5 billion face masks would be thrown 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, more than a million seabirds and even more fish, invertebrates and other marine life,” the report said, noting that penguins in Brazil were found dead with masks in their stomachs.
The masks will bring around 7,000 tonnes of plastic to the oceans, in addition to the 269,000 tonnes that are already polluting the water.
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