Mask Trash in Our Oceans


Courtesy of the Conservation

Mask litter has caused many masks to end up in oceans, causing detrimental effects on the aquatic environment.

Tiana Salisbury, Photojournalist

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, people have been urged to wear a mask for their safety and health. However, as the pandemic continues to be a growing part of our lives, more masks are being worn and disposed of. Unfortunately, some people choose to litter their disposable masks outside, which is causing many problems for the environment. These people carelessly leave their masks outside, unaware of the environmental threats of their actions. While littered masks present threats throughout the various ecosystems and habitats in the world, their harmful effects are most prevalent in the ocean.

Littered masks eventually end up in the oceans after being carried away during heavy rain or in a storm drain. Oceans are already at risk because of the amount of trash in the water, and masks only introduce another problem for marine species; they are already becoming entangled in plastic bags and swallowing straws, and the problem only gets worse when masks enter their environment. 

According to the New York Times, masks grow algae when in the water, which makes them look like food for fish, dolphins, and other ocean species. When eaten, the masks become stuck in the animal’s digestive system, ultimately leading to death. Additionally, if the masks were to break down into microplastic particles, the particles would get covered in toxic substances and could end up in our food. Analise Hopper (10) believes that “this is very sad because our actions are leading many animals in the ocean to suffer. We should do more to keep our environment safe.”

In response to this, many groups and individuals are working to find a solution that will prevent masks from entering one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems. One method people have started to adopt is cutting the ear straps off masks. People do this with the hope that, if their mask does happen to become litter, the cut straps would prevent animals from getting themselves tangled into them.

Another thing people have been doing to prevent mask litter is using reusable masks. By reusing their masks, people don’t need to worry about finding a place to throw away their masks which ensures that their masks won’t become litter. 

The world is still in a pandemic, meaning that the use of masks will not be leaving anytime soon. It is important that we recognize how important it is to not only wear a mask for protection against the virus but also how the way we discard our masks can shape the fate of our environment.