As 2020 draws to a close, one of the most recognizable symbols of the year may be the protective face mask.
As the novel coronavirus swept across the globe earlier this year, billions of people began wearing the face coverings, with one study estimating that no less than 129 billion face masks were being used every month around the world.
However, as face masks have become ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives, they’ve also grown to litter every corner of our neighborhoods, from storm drains to creeks, parks to beaches.
“Once plastic enters the marine environment, it’s very difficult to move,” Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, the group’s director of research, told Denver 7.
“The fact that we are starting to find masks that are breaking up indicates that this is a real problem, that microplastics are being produced by masks,” Bondaroff said.
The Hong Kong-based group estimates that some 1.56 billion face masks will have flooded our oceans in 2020 alone – a grim statistic that they have witnessed firsthand since face masks began washing up on a small island off the coast of the Chinese mega-city since the start of the pandemic.
The masks could become yet another major contributor to the ongoing crisis of plastic pollution in our ocean, with disposable face masks taking as long as 450 years to break down.
The single-use masks that are recommended by health authorities and used as personal protective equipment in hospitals across the world are made of multiple layers of polypropylene, which are thin fibers of plastic.
And with 52 billion masks being manufactured in this year, with the average weight of each single-use polypropylene surgical face mask being 3 to 4 grams, we could be looking at anywhere from 4,680 to 6,240 metric tons of new marine plastic pollution.
Ocean pollution has already reached such monstrous proportions that an estimated 100 million tons of plastic can now be found in the world’s oceans, according to the United Nations. Between 80 and 90 percent of it comes from land-based sources. And according to a report prepared for the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, by 2050 it is estimated that plastic waste in the ocean will outweigh all fish.
In recent years, ocean biologists and conservationists have expressed alarm over the growing problem of plastics and microplastics 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 question that we couldn’t answer was how many [masks] are entering our oceans? We just didn’t know,” Dr. Bondaroff said.
OceansAsia’s recent study could offer some alarming clues as to the extent of the pollution, however.
“The 1.56 billion face masks that have entered our oceans in 2020 are there for the long run,” he said. “They will remain in the ocean for 450 years or more, and they’ll break into smaller pieces.”
The report notes that the global sales force of face masks has grown exponentially, increasing from $800 million in 2019 to $166 billion in 2020.
The surging sales come as health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued official health guidance urging U.S. residents to always wear a face mask in public in lieu of or in addition to physical distancing measures meant to help prevent person-to-person transmission of the deadly disease.
“That’s important, we need to keep people safe, but at the same time that has a lasting impact on our environment, and we’re seeing that on the beaches,” Bondaroff added.
The report requests that the public wear reusable masks when possible while also disposing of masks properly as a step toward drawing down overall consumption of single-use plastics.
The group also calls on authorities to encourage the use of reusable masks, including releasing guidelines on the proper manufacture and use of reusable masks, while also educating the public about responsibly disposing of masks, among other measures.
Scientists Shocked After Discovering ‘Strange Creatures’ Nearly a Mile Under Antarctic Ice Shelf
The perplexing community of alien-like creatures wasn’t supposed to be there.
Roughly a mile beneath the icy surface of Antarctica in a remote region 160 miles from sunlight, scientists have accidentally discovered a perplexing set of bizarre creatures, perplexing the researchers who believed the area to be a wasteland wholly devoid of life.
Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey had drilled through 3,000 ft. of ice after melting 20 tons of snow to scoop up seafloor sediment before dropping a camera into the frigid ocean below. However, they soon realized that their tunnel had been dug right above a boulder at the bottom of the ocean, rendering it impossible to gather any sediment.
However, to the shock of the researchers, their camera was able to discover an ecosystem of life that left them confounded with what Wired described as “strange creatures” – two types of filter feeding sea sponges that had never been encountered, dwelling in the – 28.04°F (-2.2°C) water where researchers had believed that no life was possible.
The strange species dwelling in the pitch black waters are living over 200 miles from any known food source, but the creatures still appear to be prospering in spite of the treacherous conditions of the Antarctic sea floor.
The discovery of the strange sea sponges shows just how little we still know about one of the only unexplored regions of the world – and the forms of life that thrive there – where gigantic ice shelves that often rival the size of entire countries have prevented researchers from studying what lies below.
The team’s study laying out the jaw-dropping discovery was published Monday in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.
“It’s not the most exciting-looking rock—if you don’t know where it is,” British Antarctic Survey biologist Dr. Huw Griffiths told Wired.
Indeed, on close inspection the rock wasn’t only home to the bizarre alien-like sponges – including some shaped like cylinders – but also a film of bacteria known as a microbial mat and a range of stalked organism. Their source of sustenance is what left the scientists befuddled.
Animals that live sessile (or stationary) lives typically rely on a stable supply of food known as “marine snow” – the detritus and remains, sometimes as small as particles, of decomposed sea creatures that sink to the depths of the ocean. Anyone with their own aquarium can imagine what this marine snow looks like.
However, while the source of food might not be apparent, the scientists are guessing that underwater currents are washing in miniscule bits of organic matter from ecosystems that could be as distant as 390 to 930 miles away.
This all still remains a matter of speculation until the next expedition can study this mysterious underwater community much closer. Yet the scientists are eager to find out what these bizarre creatures are and how they ended up in the region in such an inhospitable region in the first place.
“Are they all eating the same food source?” Griffiths asked. “Or are some of them kind of getting nutrients from each other? Or are there more mobile animals around somehow providing food for this community?”
Breathtaking Video Shows Monstrous Avalanche Barrel Down Toward Snowmobilers
Gut-wrenching video has gone viral that shows a massive avalanche barreling toward snowmobilers in Utah on Saturday, but the entire group managed to narrowly survive the massive onslaught that nearly closed in on them.
“Today we were riding in the Uintas, the snow was great up high and it was finally feeling like we had some base,” Penrose wrote, adding that he had been riding in that part of the mountains since he was 8 years old and was highly familiar with the conditions of the region.
“My brother and I were playing on the side of a hill in the a tree area where [we] have ridden 30-40 times in years past,” he continued.
“As I finished recording my brother playing in the pow, the mountain shook,” Penrose added.
“My original thought was… earthquake. Then it [hit] me, avalanche,” he said.
The terrifying event was also recorded by their friend Nate, who was accompanying them during the ordeal.
As the snow was barreling down the mountain, a man in the video can be heard screaming “Avalanche!”
“Oh sh*t, that’s coming to us,” the terrified man also said.
After Nate can be seen making a mad dash to pull away on his sled to escape the avalanche, the camera suddenly goes dark.
According to Penrose, his safety gear failed to deploy because it had not been turned on. However, he was still swept off his feet by the snow by about 20 yards and was basically “swimming” in the deluge.
Penrose was buried up to his chest in the snow before he fortunately was able to dig himself out. He then rescued his brother, who was buried just up to the top of his head.
“[Then] came the radio chatter,” Penrose said. “Where is everyone at? Was everyone okay? We didn’t realize it but the avalanche had triggered even bigger on the other side of trees where we were.”
Three other party members also managed to survive the terrifying event.
The avalanche was the second to strike in Utah on that day.
In Mill Creek Canyon, which lies halfway across the state from the Uinta Mountains, eight people from two separate were skiing back country before seven of them were struck by a massive avalanche.
Four of the skiers – two people from each group – were killed. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the skiers “were young Utahns who reveled in the state’s beauty, pursuing adventures from its ski slopes to its redrock country.”
CNN reports that the four deaths are the most recent in a series of recent deaths caused by avalanches across three states, with the latest deaths bringing the number of fatalities to nine.
Just last week, a man in Utah was killed after being caught in an avalanche near Park City Mountains Canyons Village, just a few miles from the Mill Creek avalanche.
Three other skiers, all local officials, were also killed in an avalanche in Colorado last Monday. Their bodies weren’t recovered until Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, the body of a skier was recovered following an avalanche at the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire.
Biden Expected to Cancel Keystone XL Pipeline Permit on Day One
President-elect Joe Biden is reportedly planning on the day of his inauguration to rescind a federal permit allowing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States, a move environmentalists said would represent an immense victory for the planet attributable to years of tireless Indigenous-led opposition to the dirty-energy project.
CBC News reported Sunday that “the words ‘Rescind Keystone XL pipeline permit’ appear on a list of executive actions supposedly scheduled for Day One of Biden’s presidency,” which begins with his swearing-in on Wednesday. The withdrawal of the Keystone XL permit is among several environment-related actions Biden plans to take via executive order during his first day in office, a list that includes rejoining the Paris climate accord.
“A huge victory for Lakota and Indigenous front liners and Water Protectors. None of this would have been possible without their sacrifices,” Nick Estes, a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and an assistant professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico, tweeted in response to Biden’s reported plan for Keystone XL, a sprawling $8 billion tar sands project that the Trump administration repeatedly sought to advance amid legal challenges and widespread grassroots resistance.
Kendall Mackey, Keep It in the Ground campaign manager for 350.org, said in a statement late Sunday that preventing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. would be a “momentous sign” that Biden “is listening, taking action, and making good on his promises to people and the planet.”
“This decision to halt the Keystone XL pipeline on day one in office sets a precedent that all permitting decisions must pass a climate test and respect Indigenous rights,” said Mackey. “We expect the administration to make similar announcements on Dakota Access Pipeline and Line 3. We celebrate this great victory and the powerful movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
“By ensuring that Keystone XL is reversed,” Mackey continued, “Biden is standing on the side of tribal nations, farmers, ranchers, and many communities whose livelihoods would be wrecked by this dirty pipeline.”
News of Biden’s Inauguration Day plan was met with howls of protest from right-wing Canadian politicians such as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who issued a statement Sunday threatening legal action if Biden follows through on yanking the permit for Keystone XL, owned by Canada-based company TC Energy. Last March, as Common Dreams reported, the government of Alberta committed around $1.1 billion USD to the pipeline project.
“I am deeply concerned by reports that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden may repeal the presidential permit for the Keystone XL border crossing,” Kenney tweeted, a response that was immediately panned by climate activists.
In a last-ditch effort to rescue its long-delayed Keystone XL project, TC Energy is reportedly “committing to spend $1.7 billion on solar, wind, and battery power to operate the partially completed 2,000-mile pipeline system between Alberta, in western Canada, and Texas,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
The attempt to brand Keystone XL as an environmentally friendly and sustainable energy project was swiftly ridiculed, with one journalist accusing TC Energy of a “desperate” effort to put “lipstick on its pig.”
Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It in the Ground campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in response to Biden’s plan to rescind the pipeline permit that “our communities have been fighting KXL for over a decade, tooth and nail, in the dirt and in the courts.”
“We formed an immensely powerful, unlikely alliance of voices and we never gave up,” said Goldtooth. “I will wait for the ink to dry before I fully celebrate, but s*** this feels good.”
Republished from CommonDreams.org under Creative Commons
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