‘Soon there will be more masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean’: Conservationists warn protective gear washing up in oceans

Plastics in masks are ‘ecological timebomb’, warn French politician

Harry Cockburn
Monday 22 June 2020 17:46 BST
The surge in use of masks poses a risk to the environment, politicians and conservationists have warned
The surge in use of masks poses a risk to the environment, politicians and conservationists have warned (Getty)

French conservationists have warned masks and gloves are ending up in the Mediterranean Sea in growing numbers amid widespread usage of protective gear due to coronavirus pandemic.

Non-profit organisation Operation Mer Propre said its scuba divers had found increased evidence of discarded protective equipment during sea-cleaning operations recent months.

The organisation retrieved “dozens” of masks in total but said the discoveries pointed to a worrying wider trend if using disposable plastics and other items which are detrimental to the environment to tackle the pandemic.

The group has posted photographs of its dives and the rubbish it found in the hope of highlighting the potential for further damage to the natural world.

Laurent Lombard, a member of Operation Mer Propre, pointed to the fact the French government had ordered more than 2 billion masks.

Writing on Facebook he said: “Knowing that more than 2 billion disposable masks have been ordered, soon there will be more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean!”

He added: “It is the responsibility of everyone to avoid this new pollution but also our elected officials, MPs and public authorities.

“It might be time to unite all the right initiatives to solve this new pollution as quickly and firmly.

“The health crisis has allowed us to see the best and worst in us, if we do nothing it’s the worst that will happen when it’s simply a matter of common sense to avoid all of this.”

Joffrey Peltier who is also a member of the organisation told The Guardian: “It’s the promise of pollution to come if nothing is done.”

“With all the alternatives, plastic isn’t the solution to protect us from Covid. That’s the message.”

French politicians have also voiced concern over the waste resulting from dealing with the pandemic.

Eric Pauget, who represents the department of Alpes-Maritimes, which includes the Côte d’Azur, wrote last month to French president Emmanuel Macron, warning masks often contain plastics such as polypropylene.

“The presence of a potentially contaminating virus on the surface of these masks thrown on the ground, represents a serious health threat for public cleaners and children who could accidentally touch them,” he wrote.

“In addition, the friable polypropylene nanoparticles making up these masks which protect humans, risk lastingly affecting our ecosystems and their biodiversity.

He added: It is the extent of this environmental pollution which must alert us, because these masks passing from sidewalks in streams, will inevitably end up in nature or in the sea. Besides, with a lifespan 450 years, this equipment constitutes a veritable ecological time bomb given their lasting environmental consequences for our planet.”

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