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

Jacob Koomen takes his bike out for a spin near his home in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Campbell Riverite to cycle length of Island to raise funds for cancer research

Long distance rides are no big deal for 73-year-old cyclist

Comox Strathcona Waste Management expects to go to tender this summer for the regional organics compost facility in Campbell River. File photo/Black Press
Comox Strathcona compost site should go to tender this summer

The regional organics facility is on target to open for the fall of 2022

WestJet in flight. Black Press file photo
Two COVID exposures on WestJet flight into Comox

The BC Centre for Disease Control has posted advisories for two separate… Continue reading

Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Busy day for Campbell River fire crews

Three incidents in rapid succession keep crews on their toes

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

Most Read