As governments and frontliners continue to battle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with full force, an overlooked effect has severely overwhelmed the environment. Philippine coral reefs near Manila have been found to be littered with an extensive number of Personal Protective Equipment, or PPEs.
In a special aired by the BBC, Philippines Correspondent Howard Johnson joined divers from the Anilao Scuba Dive Center to take a look at the damage. The group notably works hand-in-hand with the United Nations Environment Programme’s Green Fins, an organization known to promote sustainable marine tourism in Southeast Asia.
In the short clip posted on the BBC website, the divers can be seen swimming through coral reefs, picking up a slew of single-use face masks. Some masks are seen with algae already growing on them, indicating that they have been in the area for a couple months.
According to the Anilao divers, the cove they had visited didn’t look the way it did prior to the country’s strict lockdown.
Oliver, one of the group’s dive professionals, detailed the pollution he witnessed. “Just ten minutes into the dive, we saw around 10-12 masks. We never had that before.”
Tarpaulins, face shields, and plastic bottles were just some of the likely hundreds of pieces of plastic waste floating around the area. The implication is dangerous, as many environmental groups have warned that such plastics, especially single-use face masks, can break down into microplastics over time and actually make its way into the stomachs of ocean wildlife and eventually, our dinner plates.
Consequently, environmental groups have called for better waste management in the Philippines to fight against such pollution.
For the Anilao divers, reusable masks are key. Fellow professional diver Shala says that the scene in Anilao is just the “tip of the iceberg.”
“If people were educated to dispose properly, we can still save it,” he stated.