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

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)

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

Russell Jonathon George Gurney was last seen in Chilliwack in mid-December. (RCMP photo)
RCMP ask for help to find missing Abbotsford man last seen in Chilliwack

Police and family are concerned for the well-being of Russell Jonathon George Gurney

Ottawa serial killer Camille Joseph Cleroux died of natural causes at Abbotsford’s Pacific Institution on Sunday.
Serial killer housed at Abbotsford’s Pacific Institution dies of natural causes

Camille Joseph Cleroux announced dead on Sunday, known as notorious Ottawa serial killer

Garry Blanchard of Hope won $77,000 correctly guessing the outcomes of all 13 games of NFL week 17. (Photo/BCLC)
Hope resident rakes in $77,000 in NFL Week 17 bet

Garry Blanchard won the record-breaking prize correctly guessing every outcome that week

This urn was found Jan. 4 at a Yale Road bus stop and has now been returned to its owner. (RCMP photo)
RCMP find custodian of urn that was left at Chilliwack bus stop

Police say the urn contained the remains of a family’s cat

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
1-in-5 COVID tests coming back positive in and around Fernie, sparking concern

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Ralliers gather in front of the Cityviews Village apartment building in Maple Ridge to protest attempts to evict low-income tenants by the building owner. (Ronan O’Doherty - The News)
Tenants protest pressure tactics by new landlord at Maple Ridge apartment building

Protest held in front of Cityviews Village on 223 St. Tuesday to rally against low-income evictions

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
‘You can’t make this stuff up’: Stories from the B.C. CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

Snow is forecasted to appear in parts of Metro Vancouver this weekend. (Black Press Media files)
Snow forecasted for parts of Lower Mainland this weekend

Environment Canada is predicting flurries and snow from Saturday to Monday evening

Most Read