Amid the global coronavirus pandemic, more and more protective equipment is ending up in the sea, a French clean-up group warned on Tuesday (June 9).
Volunteer divers who are part of the association Operation Mer Propre say they have seen discarded face masks and latex gloves floating underwater during their operations around the French coast for a month.
"For a month now, we're starting to see these masks. It's a new type of pollution," association founder Laurent Lombard told Reuters in an interview via video call.
The main cause is littering, Lombard said. Since France emerged from a strict eight-week lockdown last month, people are using personal protective equipment (PPE) in public and some are throwing used masks and gloves on the street. When it rains that gets washed into the sea.
Although for the moment PPE constitutes "not even 1 percent" of the total 3 tonnes of trash collected underwater by the group since its foundation last year, Lombard said he is wary that the problem could worsen as the pandemic drags on.
Aware of the situation, government leaders have called on the public to dispose of their used PPE properly. France's environment ministry in late May increased fines for these infractions, from 68 to 135 euros, rising to 750 euros depending on the severity of the offence.
Lombard said that the new rule should be strictly enforced.
"The message is really to throw your masks in trash bins," he said. "It's a matter of common sense."