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With 194 BILLION masks and gloves used monthly, new wave of pollution hits oceans and beaches

A new, sad side effect of the pandemic is millions of pieces of discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) that is littering the planet in shocking ways.

Elias Marat

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(TMU) – When the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world earlier this year, plunging much of the world into lockdown conditions, it seemed that nature was finally being given a major breather – so much so that breathless stories spread across the world about animals taking back their environs, along with memes and social media posts about how “the earth is healing.”

However, the scant silver lining of the global lockdown was much thinner than believed, and instead, the pandemic has given rise to a new, sad side effect – millions of pieces of discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) that is littering the planet in shocking ways.

According to a new study published in the Environment, Science & Technology journal, no less than 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves – 194 billion units of PPE in total – are being used on a monthly basis around the world, resulting in “widespread environmental contamination” and a catastrophic new wave of waste material in our oceans and rivers.

To make matters worse, watchdogs with WWF (World Wildlife Fund) warned in a report earlier this year: “If only 1 percent of the masks were to be disposed of incorrectly and dispersed in nature, this would result in up to 10 million masks per month polluting the environment.”

An environmentalist in the UK is already seeing the results of the improper disposal of the mountain of PPE being used and discarded on every month.

Emily Stevenson, a marine biologist widely known as the “Beach Guardian,” recently went to collect litter from a beach in Cornwall, along England’s southwestern coast, and found no less than 171 pieces of discarded PPE only in the span of one hour – a shocking rise from the six PPE items she had found on a previous beach cleanup.

Emily and her father Rob founded The Beach Guardian project in 2017, and have organized 200 community cleanups involving 6,000 volunteers. In recent months, she has noticed how the litter they are collecting has shifted from single-use plastic bags and straws to gloves and protective face masks.

“We’ve already found evidence of PPE actually sinking below the ocean surface,” Stevenson said, according to The Independent. “This means that there could be a totally unaccounted for concentration of PPE pollution on the seafloor, which can remain as dormant debris for centuries.”

“Once on the seafloor, it smothers any biological structures such as important Sea Fan beds in the UK, or coral reefs further afield,” she continued. “Also, this debris entails a ‘plasticizing’ effect when on the seafloor – potentially inhibiting gas exchange between the water column and sediment.”

Stevenson noted that if the entire UK wears one disposable protective face mask per day for a full year, this would result in an extra 57,000 tons of plastic that is difficult to recycle – along with an additional 66,000 tons of contaminated PPE trash.

“This has been the first time I have been legitimately frightened by PPE pollution,” Stevenson said. “To see it in the water, in the environment that holds my heart and my passion. To see it at home, on my doorstep. It hit me very hard.”

Well prior to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic, experts and conservationists were urgently warning that plastic waste was inundating the world’s oceans and water supplies, leaching carcinogenic toxins and chemicals into the marine environment, with plastic drink containers trapping and confining—and ultimately killing—marine wildlife.

The pollution has reached such monstrous proportions that an estimated 100 million tons of plastic could be found in the oceans, according to the UN. Between 80 and 90 percent of it comes from land-based sources. A report prepared for the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, warned that by 2050, plastic waste in the ocean would outweigh all fish.

Stevenson retains hope that given the unifying effect of the pandemic, people will be more open to embracing a conscientious attitude toward problems on a global scale.

“The saving grace of COVID-19 has been our unity; the whole world has faced the virus together,” she noted. “If we continue with the same global collaboration, we can resolve this. PPE is in all of our lives; we use it or see it every day. But it is for this very reason that we can all do something about it.”

“It is those daily, individual, small steps that happen on a global scale that is going to be our greatest ally in this fight against plastic,” Stevenson said.

Animals

As Marine Life Flees the Equator, Global Mass Extinction is Imminent: Scientists

Elias Marat

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The waters surrounding the equator are one of the most biodiverse areas in the globe, with the tropical area rich in marine life including rare sea turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, and other creatures.

However, rampant rises in temperate have led to a mass exodus of marine species from the sensitive region – with grave implications for life on earth.

While ecologists have long seen the thriving biodiversity of equatorial species holding constant in the past few centuries, a new study by Australian researchers published in The Conversation has found that warming global temperatures are now hitting the equator hard, potentially leading to an unprecedented mass extinction event.

The researchers from the Universities of Auckland, Queensland, and the Sunshine Coast found that as waters surrounding the equator continue to heat up, the ecosystem is being disrupted and forcing species to flee toward the cooler water of the South and North Pole.

The massive changes in marine ecosystems that this entails will have a grave impact not only on ocean life – essentially becoming invasive species in their new homes –  but also on the human livelihoods that depend on it.

“When the same thing happened 252 million years ago, 90 percent of all marine species died,” the researchers wrote.

To see where marine life is headed, the researchers tracked the distribution of about 49,000 different species to see what their trajectory was. The global distribution of ocean life typically resembles a bell curve, with far fewer species near the poles and more near the equator.

However, the vast alteration of the curve is already in motion as creatures flee to the poles, according to a study they published in the journal PNAS.

These changes augur major disruptions to global ecosystem as marine life scrambles in a chaotic fight for food, space, and resources – with a mass die-off and extinction of creatures likely resulting.

The research underscores the dire need for human societies to control rampant climate change before the biodiversity and ecological health of the planet is pushed past the point of no return.

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Environment

Japan Says Dumping Fukushima Radioactive Water in Pacific Ocean is Now “Unavoidable”

Elias Marat

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While Japan last month marked the 10th anniversary of the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami with solemn ceremonies, the government has also been stressing the successes of its recovery efforts in the country’s northeast.

In truth, however, the country is still coping with the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, which has already cost Japan trillions of yen and whose exclusion zone will require up to 40 more years to fully rehabilitate.

And with contaminated water continuing to build up at the ruined Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says that the government must finally begin dumping it into the Pacific Ocean.

With nuclear waste and fuel rods still contaminating the area, over one million tons of radioactive waste water continue to seep from the facility, according to The Japan Times, forcing authorities into what Suga describes as the “unavoidable” position of having to dump the water.

Officials claim that the water would be purified to the maximum extent possible, but environmentalist groups like Greenpeace warn that the water contains hazardous material that could damage human DNA and the health of marine life.

Fishers also fear that consumers will refuse to buy fish caught in contaminated waters, worsening their plight amid a restriction of imports from Fukushima prefecture imposed by 15 countries and regions.

Regardless, authorities argue they must deal with the cards that have been dealt.

“What to do with the [treated] water is a task that the government can no longer put off without setting a policy,” Japanese trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said on Wednesday.

Suga is expected to formally decide on the course of action by next Tuesday. If he proceeds, authorities will dilute tritium to 2.5 percent of the maximum concentration allowed by the country before it is dumped.

But while Japanese officials say that the water will be safe, it remains an open question whether people will trust their word.

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Environment

Crowds Flock to Lava-Spewing Volcanoes in Italy, Iceland and Guatemala to Get Closer View

Elias Marat

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The year 2021 has so far been a particularly active time for volcanic eruptions. In February and March, three spectacular volcanic eruptions have occurred: the Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland, Mount Etna in Italy and Pacaya in Guatemala.

In each case, the eruptions have drawn large crowds of curious onlookers and sightseers.

In vivid video captured at Fagradalsfjall volcano on April 1, lava can be seen being spewed as amazed onlookers can be heard in the background. According to local reports, tens of thousands of people have been drawn to the area to view the eruption.

Iceland’s authorities are not anticipating evacuations due to the mile-and-a-half distance from the nearest road.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and as of now it is not considered a threat to surrounding towns,” said Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. “We ask people to keep away from the immediate area and stay safe.”

Italy and Guatemala have also experienced a few volcanic eruptions this year.

On March 7, Sicilian villages were showered with ash and lava stone following the eruption of Mount Etna, which began its highly active phase in February.

The Pacaya volcano lying 30 miles south of the Guatemalan capital has also been extremely active since February.

Pacaya’s peak typically attracts tourists, but hikes are temporarily on hold due to the uptick in activity. Pacaya has a clear view of the nearby Volcano of Fire, whose lava flows in a 2018 eruption killed at least 110 people and left rougly 200 missing.

While volcano tourism provides a steady source of income for villages like nearby San Francisco de Sales, locals must balance this with the need to ensure their long-term safety.

So far, however, Pacaya has not yet injured locals.

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