With the end of the Covid-19 pandemic still a distant hope, masks remain a normal addition to our daily lives. But a study from Belgium suggests that they may be doing more damage to our oceans while protecting us from the virus.
Disposable face masks, one of the protection items against Covid-19, take up to 450 years to degrade, the Belgian Department of Marine Environment warned. They report that these wastes are damaging marine life.
Scientists say that animals can mistake the masks for jellyfish and eat them; they can also become entangled in them.
The office noted that this type of additional garbage generated by the Covid-19 pandemic is adding to the 8 million tons of plastic waste that pollutes the oceans each year.
“Face masks save lives, but if they end up as waste in the North Sea, they endanger marine life,” said Vincent Van Quickenborne, Minister of the North Sea, in remarks quoted by The Brussels Times.
“Marine animals can mistake masks for jellyfish. When swallowed, their stomachs fill up immediately but without any supply of nutrients, which weakens them in the long term,” added the Department of Marine Environment.
Cut masks before throwing them away
Seagulls, pigeons and other birds have also become entangled with the elastics of some masks says a report from NIUS, which cited the cases that have been registered in a Spanish veterinary clinic. The Spanish team treated a seagull whose legs had become entangled with the strips of a mask.
“Its legs were completely entangled, and the bird even had a wound on its beak from trying to remove it,” said the veterinarian who treated her.
Among the risks that animals have in relation to our waste, in addition to filling up the stomachs of some sea animals, masks can cause infections and entanglements, leading to the loss of lmbs and even death.
To combat the problem, experts offer a simple solution: they recommend cutting masks, at least the elastic ones, before throwing them away. This also prevents other people from being able to reuse or even resell them.
“The most vulnerable animals are birds, even urban ones since there are masks thrown in the streets,” said Ana Belén Martín of the Animalist Party Against Animal Abuse (Pacma).