Here’s how the coronavirus could threaten the world’s oceans

  • Masks, gloves, and other protective gear are being disposed incorrectly
  • Environmental groups warn that oceans are being overrun with waste
  • Without changes, we could do irreparable damage to our oceans

Millions of people around the world are donning face masks, gloves, and other protective gear as a defense against COVID-19, and companies have made efforts to vastly increase the speed at which these products hit the shelves to meet the growing demand.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, are warning that much of this protective gear is not being disposed of correctly, according to USA Today. A sudden surge in ocean pollution has officials concerned that improper disposal could be threatening the health of the world’s oceans as people on land try to avoid becoming sick. 

Medical waste is also increasing, as hospitals continue fighting on the frontlines of the pandemic. Single-use plastic—like that used in grocery bags and to-go containers—has also seen an uptick in use as people stay home and take measures to avoid cross-contamination. The waste from these products is adding to the increased medical waste, along with the discarded protective gear, to create concerns among environmental groups worldwide. 

Most medical face masks are composed of a non-biodegradable material, according to EcoWatch. Any masks not collected by environmental groups could languish in our oceans and along beaches for up to 450 years. The continued pollution is a threat to marine life and wildlife habitats. The pollution of our oceans has been an issue at the forefront of environmentalists’ minds for years, and the pandemic has only served to worsen the situation. Without real steps toward a solution, experts fear that the damage will become irreversible.

The oceans serve key roles in nearly every country and community around the world. We rely on them to provide food, medicine, and even climate change mitigation. We continue to uncover new oceanic mysteries, and many people use the oceans as a source of income. Oceans and the many things they provide have a far larger role in many people’s lives than they may realize. 

Experts note that we are only a few months into this pandemic. Face masks and gloves may well become part of daily life around the globe, which will vastly increase common use of these disposable products. Environmental groups are deeply concerned over the precedent we are setting now, and the implications it could have for the future. 

As one French environmentalist wrote, via the Guardian, “Soon there will be more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean.”

Sources: USA Today, World EconomicForum, EcoWatch, The Guardian

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