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

WASHOUT: Slide at Soda Creek MacAlister Road makes road impassable

Next update on DriveBC is expected on Monday, March 30 at noon.

Spreading joy through music: Local musicians brighten everyone’s day on social media

LeRae Haynes and Evan Jensen post two songs online every day

LETTERS: COVID-19 will impact us all, one way or another

Let me say that our hospital staff are heroes

COLUMN: Small scale logging contractors have to be versatile

There is logging activity in the Fox Mountain area with chip trucks heading into town

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

Evening world update: U.S. restrictions extended 30 days; NY deaths near 1,000

Comprehensive world update, with the latest developments in the COVID-19 crisis

‘It’s up to us: Recently-returned B.C. couple urges Canadians to take COVID-19 seriously

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

‘Nothing concrete’: Tenants, landlords lack details after B.C. unveils COVID-19 rental aid

Single mom in Golden says she’s already going to the food bank after being laid off

Canada will make sure masks sent by China meet quality standards: Trudeau

Chinese Embassy tweeted that China was sending 30,000 medical masks along with gowns, gloves and goggles

B.C. issues guidelines about distancing, reusable bags to grocery stores amid COVID-19

Hand sanitizer and markers to keep lines two metres are apart are needed, province says

No plans to call in military right now to enforce COVID-19 quarantine: Trudeau

Trudeau unveils $7.5M for Kids Help Phone, $9M for vulnerable seniors amid COVID-19

QUIZ: How much do you know about the Olympics?

Put your knowledge to the test with these 12 questions

B.C. announces $3M for food banks to increase capacity during COVID-19

It is not clear how much of the money will flow towards Greater Victoria food banks

Most Read