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Mask Fossils and Microfibers

And blue is how we feel.

Picures of improperly disposed single use masks taken in two different locations in the UAE on 17 July 2020.

This is a brief post to highlight two key news pieces we have come across during our research on the environmental impact of improperly disposed single use masks and gloves. The first concerns man-made microfibers from disposable face masks found in the guts of sharks, and the second an analysis of how intact masks and gloves which find their way to river beds or the bottom of lakes can become fossilized in newly formed rocks.

We have raised our concern as an organization before the easing of the lockdown to the problem that could arise because of the widespread use of disposable masks and gloves, and were alarmed as the lockdown eased by the volume of free disposables available to the public in the name of safety, when physical distancing and washing our hands with soap and water should have taken more prominence. We tried our best to communicate the message that a dependence on masks is not the answer when other organizations chose not to object or remained silent.

We tried our best to communicate the message that a dependence on masks is not the answer.

Now the inevitable has happened and we are dealing with the aftermath. Since the easing of the lockdown, we have been documenting littered single use face masks and gloves around our city, on our beaches and in the sea. We launched a campaign to heighten the level of awareness by asking members of the community to do the documenting themselves and help raise awareness within their circles.

One of the videos we received recently was from the Dubai Voluntary Diving group, a footage of a reusable mask their divers found on the seabed. Clearly, a reusable alternative is also a threat to marine and terrestrial life if it is disposed of improperly or gets misplaced and lost somehow. There is also a problem with the type of material the mask is made from, and how fibers from that material can find their way into the air, waterways and marine microorganisms, either through regular washing or, in this case, misplacement.

Incidentally, the researchers revealed that 88 percent of the microfibers they found in the guts of sharks were blue. And blue is how we feel.

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A UN News piece titled "Five things you should know about disposable masks and plastic pollution popped in my feed this morning ( and a statement is made there that "if effective measures are put into place, the amount of plastics discarded every year can be significantly cut, or even eliminated," with details recounting how around 80 percent of plastic pollution could be eliminated by 2040 "simply by replacing inadequate regulation, changing business models and introducing incentives leading the the reduced production of plastics," and that global cooperation is essential.

All I can say is, what is the UNEP capable of doing about this issue other than post this article? The WHO has relented to condoning face mask usage and…

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