Gary Stokes, co-founder of OceansAsia, holds up a pile of surgical masks found on a beach in the Soko Islands. (Naomi Brannan/OceansAsia)

Surgical masks pile up on Hong Kong beaches after COVID-19 outbreak

B.C. resident working with ocean conservation team to track trash on Soko Islands

Researchers have begun to see a spike in the number of discarded surgical masks washing up on Hong Kong beaches since the COVID-19 pandemic began at the end of 2019.

Saanich researcher Teale Phelps Bondaroff works as the director of OceansAsia – a non-profit organization focused on marine issues including organized crime involving sea creatures.

Over the past few weeks, researchers have been noticing large numbers of surgical masks washing up on the Soko Islands – a group of islands off the coast of Hong Kong, Phelps Bondaroff explained.

He added that the Soko Islands are only accessible by boat and that the beaches are constantly covered in piles of garbage. OceanAsia researchers have been doing plastic surveys on the beach every few weeks in an effort to track the source of the trash and find out how it ends up there, Phelps Bondaroff said.

At the end of February, one of his colleagues picked up 70 surgical masks in a small stretch of beach in just one day. This was about six weeks after the virus began to spread rapidly in the region and there was a cultural shift to more people wearing masks regularly, Phelps Bondaroff explained. He added that many of the masks being used are made of polypropylene – a plastic that takes a long time to break down and can become coated in toxins.

Aside from the masks ending up on the beaches, they’re also being ingested by porpoises and other sea animals, he said pointing out that this demonstrates the environmental effects of COVID-19 and the flaws in waste management.

Phelps Bondaroff pointed out that even if people are more careful about disposing of their masks, it won’t solve the garbage problem on the Soko Island beaches. He noted that about 80-million pieces of plastic end up in the oceans on a daily basis.

The increased number of discarded masks on the beaches “underscores the weaknesses in the waste management supply chain,” Phelps Bondaroff said.

He’s hopeful that this kind of research helps to bring about improvements to waste management globally.

Phelps Bondaroff also sees this as an opportunity to remind people to follow advice from health officials for proper mask disposal so masks don’t start piling up on beaches in other parts of the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends removing face masks by the straps, avoiding touching the front of the mask as it may be contaminated and placing it in a closed bin.

“Never reuse single-use masks and discard them immediately,” said Christine Francis, infection prevention and control consultant, in an informational video produced by WHO.


@devonscarlett
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

devon.bidal

@saanichnews.com

CoronavirusSaanich

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

OceansAsia researchers have noticed a spike in the number of surgical masks washing up on beaches in the Soko Islands since the COVID-19 pandemic began. (Naomi Brannan/OceansAsia)

Just Posted

Kootenay program encourages gardeners to share what they grow during pandemic

The West Kootenay Permaculture Co-op is sending out free seeds, but with a catch

West Kootenay residents stranded in Peru seek a way home

Three West Kootenay residents are in remote places, unable to get to Lima’s international airport

West Kootenay couple escapes Spain – safe, sound, and in self-isolation

BC couple Garrett Kucher and Tory Apostoliuk make it home after almost a week of lockdown in Spain

Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert

‘In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable,’ says SFU’s Peter Chow-White

All Kootenay Boundary parks and outdoor facilities closed

RDKB reminds all residents the shutdown is for public safety and in response to COVID-19

Canada expands 75% wage subsidy to COVID-19 affected businesses of all sizes: Trudeau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

Canadian ferry operators call for inclusion in COVID-19 travel restrictions

Domestic travel restrictions should include ferries, operators say

Canadian COVID-19 update: Cases spike in Quebec & Ontario; Nine O’Clock Gun salutes health workers

Comprehensive Canadian news update as of 12:30 p.m., Monday, March 30.

Cruise ships, one with COVID-19 on board, carry Canadians covertly through Panama Canal

Zaandam, Rotterdam pass through canal under cover of darkness in face of local protests

’The energy sector is destroyed beyond repair’: expert on COVID-19’s impact on economy

‘That’s never been heard of before; no one sells oil for $4 a barrel.’ – Dan McTeague

LifeLabs reducing public hours as it assists with COVID-19 testing

Coronavirus tests not done at B.C. patient centres, referrals only

24,000 Canadian Forces members ready for COVID-19 response: Defence Minister

No direct requests made by premiers yet, national defence minister says

IN DEPTH: How B.C. emptied its hospitals to prepare for COVID-19

Thousands of beds have been freed up, but patients and seniors have had to sacrifice

Kootenay Meadows Farm experiencing shortage of glass milk bottles

Some grocery stores have stopped accepting bottle returns amid COVID-19 concerns

Most Read