CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS — Coastal Bend beaches are being turned into eyesores because of the pandemic, as many have become littered with disposable face masks and other personal protection equipment.
They not only look bad, they also pose a risk for the coastal environment.
“Before the pandemic started, we would never see a mask,” said University of Texas Marine Science Institute Reserve Director Jace Tunnell. “Unfortunately, it’s the common thing we’re finding now. (6)
Like it or not, masks have become a part of our lives. However, those masks are creating a problem on the beach. One that Tunnell says ins’t going away soon.
“These are made from polypropylene, which is a plastic,” said Tunnell. “This can last 450 years in the environment. It won’t look the same in 450 years, but it will never go away. It will break down into smaller and smaller pieces which allow smaller and smaller animals to be able to eat it, then eventually get into the food chain.”:
That has Padre Island residents concerned.
“Anything that gets out there and doesn’t decompose easily and is going to be around for a long time is something that we should all be concerned about,” said Padre Island resident John Gordon.
Gordon says he’s noticed plenty of masks lying around, and not just on the beach.
“Especially in parking lots, common areas, things like that.” Said Gordon. “I don’t know it’s from people just throwing it down or letting it blow out of their car and not picking it up.”
Tunnell says he found 13 masks in five minutes walking around a store on the Island Friday morning. On city streets, masks are simply an eyesore, but on the beach they’re a danger to wildlife, like sea turtles and birds.
“They can ingest them, which could clog their intestinal tract and also they could get entangled,” said Tunnell.
Masks have become an all too common find for beach cleanup groups, and Tunnell says that’s going to be part of our post-pandemic normal.
“When the pandemic is over, say in six months to a year, we’ll bee seeing less and less, but until they’re all picked up, they’re going to be around,” Tunnell said.
According to Tunnell, a cloth mask like this one will not only save you money in the long run, it will help keep trash off the beach and away from the animals.