Divers, conservationists in South Florida work to clean up masks, gloves, other PPE in sea, beaches

MIAMI (WSVN) - Some divers in South Florida are working to clean up masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment that has been found in the ocean off the region’s coast.

While some people sweep up the shore for litter, the divers are afraid pollution will pile up as the pandemic continues.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, our teams have absolutely seen an increase in the amount of PPE equipment they’re finding,” Alex Schulze, 4Ocean’s CEO, said. “They’re finding masks. They’re finding gloves.”

4Ocean is a company based out of Boca Raton that does ocean cleanups around the world. They said they keep finding thousands of masks and gloves in the water.

“They’re finding all sorts of materials that are being discarded in parking lots and other areas, and what’s happening is when it rains, all of that plastic is being taken to the waterways, the gutters, drains, and it’s ending up in the ocean,” Schulze said.

Loggerhead Marine Life Center, based out of Juno Beach, is also finding PPE on their regular beach cleanups, according to Loggerhead Conservation Manager Katie O’Hara.

“We did get a ton of debris, and we were seeing a slight increase in the amount of plastic gloves and masks that we were picking up,” she said. “I’m sure everyone has been noticing just walking around in their neighborhood, or even just going to the grocery store. There’s a really big increase, not only in single use plastic items that are important for our health, but they’re all over the ground right now.”

Not only do the PPE end up in the water and on the beach, it also ends up in the stomachs of sea life.

“That poses a huge risk to our sea turtles that those gloves that are out there,” O’Hara said. “We know they resemble jellyfish, and that’s a really common food item for our sea turtles, so we know they’re looking at plastic gloves and those plastic items and thinking, ‘Is that dinner?'”

Schulze said the solution to the problem is people being conscious of how they throw away their PPE.

“If it’s not taken care of properly, and if it’s not recycled properly or disposed of properly, it has a high chance of ending up in the ocean in these coastal areas,” he said.

Crews have been keeping track of every piece of trash they find on their beach cleanups, and in a few months, they will have a number of how many of these they are finding on our beaches.

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