Face Masks Becoming a Threat to Ocean County Waterways

Face masks have become a necessity during the ongoing pandemic, but they are also a new threat to local waterways, including the Barnegat Bay, Commissioner Joseph H. Vicari said.

“I am receiving a steady stream of reports that disposable face masks are turning up on beaches and the coastline all over Ocean County,” Vicari said. “I ask everyone to please dispose of your face masks properly and do not toss them on the ground.”

The masks are joining a long list of plastics, including bags and bottles, which wash into storm drains and end up in the bay.

“This problem can be easily controlled if people will simply place their used masks into the trash,” Vicari said.

Clean Ocean Action reported last fall that it collected more than 1,000 pandemic-related items, including face masks, during its local beach cleaning last fall.

Vicari, who is liaison to the Barnegat Bay Partnership, said he expected the number of masks to increase when Clean Ocean Action again scours the beaches this month.

“It’s a growing problem,” he said. “We all know the harm plastics can bring to our environment. Masks are no different. They must be disposed of correctly.”

And the problem doesn’t end in Ocean County.

The nonprofit Ocean Conservancy, which monitors water and beach pollution around the globe, said its members have found the number of disposable face masks washing ashore is increasing.

From July through December of 2020, Ocean Conservancy reported more than 107,219 pieces of pandemic-related items were removed from the ocean and beaches. Masks constituted the overwhelming majority of the items found.

Vicari said there have also been reports of seabirds and other wildlife becoming entangled in the elastic bands of face masks.

Face masks can also be mistakenly eaten by larger sea creatures, he said.

Vicari suggested that people purchase reusable cloth face masks rather than the disposable variety.

“Cloth masks are widely available and can be washed and reused many times,” Vicari said.

Gary Quinn, Director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners, said clean water and pristine beaches help attract thousands of visitors to Ocean County each year.

“With the summer tourism season fast approaching, we must all do our best to protect our environment and our wildlife,” Quinn said. “Let us all work together to keep our beaches and our waterways clean and safe for everyone.”

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  1. Straws, plastic bags and styrofoam containers are banned.. People are being publicly humiliated and thrown off flights – but the poor turtles! Ban the masks.

  2. While we’re on the subject of disposing of face masks, it’s really disgusting how many face masks we can find on the ground all the time and all over. I assume some just fall down without the owner’s knowlege. But I also assume that many are just dropped on the ground when not needed. All litter is bothersome, but litter of personal hygiene items is worse than other litter. I hope you wouldn’t just throw a used diaper on the ground, and, while not exactly the same, it is also disgusting to see a used mask on the ground.

  3. I find it disgusting that everyone around seems to have no problem exhaling aerosols and droplets all over the place. Having all those droplets confined to a mask is far better. You don’t have to breathe the mask if you don’t want to.

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