12,09, 2020, Lucy Jackson

Sea Turtle finding face mask in the ocean


Marine plastic has been a global problem for a long time, yet never before has it reached this drastic state, until now. At present, single use masks, gloves and other PPE equipment are being used in vast quantities to help protect our global population from Covid-19. Unfortunately, this has dramatically increased the amount of single use waste which is thrown out. Despite face masks being dumped inland, they eventually end up in our oceans. This can be damaging to marine wildlife, who mistakenly swallow or suffocate on these plastics. Plastic litter is not only affecting marine life but also worsening the health of our oceans, which we rely so heavily on for natural resources and food. The lifetime scale of plastic can reach hundreds of years old, this then divides into micro plastics which we can ultimately end up eating, when consuming fish. Not to forget the oceans are also used for leisure activity, people such as myself enjoy going to the beach as an escapism from our chaotic everyday lives. This can entail partaking in activities such as surfing, swimming and many other means, where we can experience our beautiful waters. But do we want to swim in waters which are floating with rubbish, no, of course not. Therefore, why not help save the wellbeing of our oceans if not for the marine wildlife, then for our own needs?

At the University, beach cleans are provided as an approach to clean up as much litter as we can from our local gorgeous beaches, to keep them as clean as possible, and to lower the amount of plastics entering our oceans. St. Andrews University are beginning to reintroduce beach cleans to encourage students and staff to do their part, in reducing marine plastics. If you are worried about gathering in groups you can also complete individual beach cleans. A campaign known as 2-minute beach clean aims to inspire people to gather as much beach litter in 2 minutes, whilst posting pictures of their litter collected online. At the moment, governmental efforts are concentrated on preventing COVID 19, hence it is up to local populations to take control, and remind the government of the ongoing marine plastic issue. Operations such as these prevent us from going back backwards in reducing our plastic waste, and allow us to take responsibility for our consumption. An inspirational innovation to mention, is a local project in Thailand, which has collected used fishing nets, to manufacture into face masks (World Economic Forum, 2020). This saves fishing gear assembling as marine litter, and is instead used to protect the local population from the global outbreak. 

In the end we must all think about how we are disposing of our single use plastics, using an approach that prevents plastics entering our seas. Manufacturers must now aim to create masks which can even be partially recycled, using local techniques such as the Thailand case study. However, until then we must do our bit for our oceans. So come along to your next local beach clean at East/West Sands, or even host your own clean up! Don’t be shy to take charge of your future!