The underwater world has never seen a threat quite like this:
An alarming amount of Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, has been floating in the water around the French coast for a month now.
That’s according to Operation Mer Propre - a French nonprofit which fights ocean pollution.
Founder Laurent Lombard says he’s never seen so many masks and gloves littering the ocean before:
"There are two reasons for us seeing these masks in the sea. It's of course the usage, since there weren't any before, and now we're using them. And then there's the incivility. If people weren't throwing masks on the street, we wouldn't find them in the sea, since 80 percent of the trash that we see in the sea comes from the land. You see, when it rains the trash is taken away by rainwaters and they end up in the sea through rivers and valleys.”
For now, PPE accounts for less than one percent of the whopping 3 tonnes of trash collected underwater by volunteers since the group started last year.
But Lombard says the problem could get worse.
Government leaders have taken notice... and are calling on the public to dispose of their used PPE properly.
France’s environment ministry, for example, increased fines for littering from 68 euros… up to 750.
"Yes, it's good, but the law needs to be enforced, and there should really be policies on giving out fines in place.”
Lombard says it comes down to common sense that people should throw their masks in the trash… instead of causing a larger problem for the ocean.