Tide of Trash: Amid COVID-19 pandemic, masks, gloves endanger marine life

(WSVN) - Litter on beaches is not a new problem, but now, COVID is making things worse with masks and gloves endangering marine life. Kevin Ozebek has this special assignment report, “Tide of Trash.”

It’s supposed to protect us, but now it is endangering the environment.

Orsi Zoltanfi, volunteer: “Single use masks and gloves, this is the new trend.”

Personal protective equipment is trending in a very bad way.

Sophie Ringel, founder, Clean Miami Beach: “The amount of PPE I’m seeing, not just in the streets but also in the canal right here, is alarming and shocking.”

Sophie Ringel and volunteers with Clean Miami Beach go out twice a month to pick up trash.

They started seeing masks and gloves in the water after the pandemic reached South Florida in March.

Sophie Ringel: “Plastic pollution has been a problem for a very long time, but now, it gets topped with PPE, especially masks.”

When PPE is tossed on the street, it can blow into the water or get washed into the ocean through storm drains.

Rafaela D’Almeida, volunteer: “Something that’s supposed to keep us safe now is hurting the environment, so it’s kind of counterproductive for people to not care about the environment and care so much about their health. I think they should go hand in hand.”

In just one hour, the group picked up 84 pounds of trash, including 88 masks. They record their haul on Clean Swell, an app that keeps track of all the trash picked up by volunteers.

Maria Algarra, Clean This Beach Up: “I would say at least 35% of what we pick up is PPE nowadays. That includes gloves, masks, wipes…”

Environmental activist Maria Algarra was so alarmed at the flood of PPE trash, she started The Glove Challenge.

The idea is simple. If you see a glove on the ground or in the water, snap a picture, post it and tag it, and, of course, pick it up and throw it in the trash. #TheGloveChallenge went viral.

Maria Algarra: “It was crazy because it started here in Miami. It started locally, then it moved to Canada, South America. It went to Europe, and people were mad.”

To date, more than 18,000 carelessly tossed gloves have been tagged by people in countries around the world.

John Hocevar, Greenpeace: “We’re using about 200 billion pieces of PPE each month, and none of this is recyclable, so it’s all either ending up in a landfill or an incinerator or just into the environment.”

From South Florida to South America, marine animals are suffering.

A puffer fish caught in a mask recently washed up on Miami Beach.

Maria Algarra: “I was extremely upset. I honestly couldn’t believe that I was seeing it. Seeing the puffer fish strangled by a mask was just horrifying.”

In Brazil, a penguin died after swallowing a mask.

Now, it seems anywhere in the world where there is a beach, PPE litter is a problem.

Gary Stokes, Oceans Asia: “In Hong Kong, come down to the beach and still finding lots of these.”

Gary Stokes is with Oceans Asia Marine Conservation Group. He hopes these shocking images will teach people to be more careful.

Gary Stokes: “The effect this is going to have on the natural world besides us is quite terrifying, and we’re only at the start of this, so we’re going to see how bad it’s going to get in the coming years.”

And with the pandemic still here and masks remaining a must, environmentalists will keep pounding this message: If you don’t throw these out properly, they will become part of the tide of trash.

If you would like to get involved in local clean up efforts, click the links below.

Clean Miami Beach

Clean This Beach Up


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