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

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

Central Abbotsford apartment to proceed to a public hearing – eventually

Six-storey apartment building would have extensive rooftop recreation area

Total Makeover Challenge moves to voting for Top 5 finalists

Online voting for Abbotsford challengers runs April 9 to 14

VIDEO: Abbotsford’s Sandy Hill Elementary hosts car parade for students

Local school lets students know how much they miss them as COVID-19 delays classes

Character Abbotsford Conference postponed until 2021

Fourth conference was originally planned to occur later this year

Price tag grows for first phase of Fraser Highway expansion in Abbotsford

Projected cost of first phase rises from $7 million to $9.3 million

COVID-19: Trudeau says 30K ventilators on the way; 3.6M Canadians claim benefits

Canada has seen more than 17,000 cases and at least 345 deaths due to COVID-19

Logan Boulet Effect: Green Shirt Day calls on Canadians to become organ donors

While social distancing, the day also honours the 16 lives lost in the 2018 Humboldt Broncos Crash

COMMENTARY: Knowing where COVID-19 cases are does not protect you

Dr. Bonnie Henry explains why B.C. withholds community names

As Canadians return home amid pandemic, border crossings dip to just 5% of usual traffic

Non-commercial land crossing dipped by 95%, air travel dropped by 96 per cent, according to the CBSA

B.C. wide burning restrictions come into effect April 16

‘Larger open burns pose an unnecessary risk and could detract from wildfire detection’

B.C. secures motel, hotel rooms for COVID-19 shelter space

Community centres, rooms reserved for pandemic self-isolation

Look at hospitalizations, not recovery stats for COVID-19, B.C. professor says

Cases in hospital are a definitive count of people who have the novel coronavirus

B.C. First Nations want to launch fight of Trans Mountain pipeline approval

Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada decided not to hear five challenges about the pipeline

Most Read