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Mask Pollution Spikes Across our Oceans and Coasts

By Nicola Smith on August 9, 2021 in News

Not where masks belong. Photo: Operation Terre Mer

Local environmental groups have noticed a spike in facemask pollution along Eastern Suburbs beaches and coastal areas.

Local architect and environmental advocate, Jacqueline Bosscher, who organises beach clean-ups through her group, Live The Difference Now, said that mask pollution has become particularly prevalent in Eastern Suburbs coastal spaces.


“On our daily walks, we see masks blowing around parks, streets, gutters and the coastal paths, but unless we have come equipped with gloves or the grabber arms we use for clean-ups, we can’t pick them up for health reasons,” Ms Bosscher told The Beast.

Mask pollution isn’t limited to the Eastern Suburbs and has been seen across the world with divers from a French non-profit, Opération Mer Propre unearthing plastic gloves, masks, and hand sanitiser bottles from the Mediterranean seabed in 2020.

However, the pollution has become particularly evident along our beaches since the latest Sydney lockdown.

Ms Bosscher added that disposable masks are particularly difficult even for environmentally-minded citizens to dispose of once they become litter.

“We don’t want to see them left in our environment or going into the oceans. They are not just plastic pollution, they are also potentially infected with other germs or viruses that increase their pollutive effect,” Ms Bosscher said.

There have also been reports on the Coogee Local Loop page of snorkellers cleaning up masks from the ocean floor along Coogee.

The biggest effect of mask pollution is not seen by the human eye. Once they are in our oceans, surgical masks leech microplastics into the water.

Ocean charity Take 3 for the Sea says that an artificial ageing experiment on surgical masks estimated that in 2020 alone, somewhere up to 31,200 tons of microplastic waste could have entered oceans just from single-use face masks.

According to National Geographic, microplastics can block the intestinal tracks of aquatic animals and diminish the urge to eat, causing animals to unintentionally starve, and die.

This pollution increases the importance of community action, whether as individuals, as part of groups such as Live the Difference Now and Rose Bay group Splash without the Trash.

Splash without the trash works in co-operation with Oz Paddle Rose Bay Aquatic Hire to run monthly volunteer clean-ups both along the shore and in the water at Rose Bay with volunteers using Kayaks or Stand-up Paddleboards to collect rubbish.

Splash Without the Trash won a $2000 Community Environment from Woollahra Council to continue their work in ocean clean-ups.

Eastern Suburbs residents can do their bit to reduce mask pollution by using reusable masks where possible.

 Even better, if you’re in the position to spend some of your daily walks cleaning up our coastlines, grab some gloves and pick up some masks and other rubbish while you spend some time outside. And, of course, don’t chuck your masks on the ground.