The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the plague of plastic in the world's oceans. Divers in the Philippines say that after returning to coral reefs when a national lockdown was lifted, they were dismayed to find more plastic in the sea than they had ever seen before, including numerous surgical masks, the BBC reports. One dive professional says that in the first 10 minutes of a dive at a coral reef in Batangas, southeast of Manila, he collected at least a dozen masks from the reef, some of which were covered in algae and had clearly been there for months.
Environmental groups warn that plastic inside the masks is breaking down into microplastics, which are being consumed by marine life. They are urging the government to bring in stricter controls for the disposal of medical waste. Researchers that Manila alone has been producing 280 extra tons of such waste daily during the pandemic. And the problem is worldwide: Last year, in the early months of the pandemic, campaigners in France said that they were finding large quantities of personal protective equipment in the Mediterranean and warned that there could soon be "more masks than jellyfish," the Guardian reports. They called on the public to adopt reusable masks instead of disposable ones. (Read more face masks stories.)