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By Juliet O. Nyangái

Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, pictures of recklessly disposed face masks and other PPE’s are circulating in various social media platforms. We have all seen photos of used-up face masks strewn in streets as well as unsafely disposed plastic gloves disposed carelessly on streets and neighborhoods.  Unfortunately, research shows that over 50% of unsafely disposed litter ends up in our oceans.

World Oceans Day takes place annually on the 8th of June. This day provides an opportunity to honor, help protect and conserve the ocean. We celebrate this great day as a reminder of the essence of oceans in our everyday lives.

Essence of Oceans

The ocean is one of the most valuable natural resources in the world. Are you aware that it is so reported that Oceans generates half of the oxygen we breathe? It could be of interest to know that, research depicts, at any given moment, Oceans contain more than 97% of the world’s water.

Further, Oceans provide at least a sixth of the animal protein human beings eat and Oceans do play a big role in mitigating climate change as living oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

2020 Theme

This year, 2020 the theme is ‘’Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean.” The topic is quite catchy, a time when the ocean economy emphasizes the growing importance of science and technologies in improving sustainable economic development of our seas and oceans.

For a sustainable ocean economy that could pave way for long-term development prospects, we need to look at responsible ways of safeguarding our oceans both during and post COVID-19.

Oceans of The World

The world’s seven seas are very few in number, 7 to be precise. They include the Arctic, North, Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans.

Coupled with the essence of the oceans, the fact that the oceans are so few in number is more reason as to why we should covetously protect them. It is a honor to have an Ocean body in a country.

Threats To The Ocean

The biggest threats to out oceans include: habitat destruction, acidification and overfishing, warming and coastal pollution.

Pollution represents one of the major threats the health of our oceans. Every year millions of pollutants enter the marine waters doing considerable damage on wildlife and ecosystems. Amidst this COVID-19 season, coastal pollution is a big concern due to the use of face masks. With reduced movement due to lockdowns and reduced movement, there would be a mistaken guise that the oceans thus have less likelihood of plastic pollution but quite the contrary.

Yes truly, environmentalists are applauding the reduction in pollution, a positive impact of the lockdown and decreased human activities across the world. Globally, people recognized cleaner air and a rejuvenation of natural resources. Nonetheless, there is another threat in pronto and this is the disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE) being used to combat COVID-19.

Across the world, including Kenya, people are wearing medical masks as a measure of curbing the pandemic. In China, the habit was recommended by health authorities in 2003 as a way of slowing the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

In Kenya, the government published a Law in April, 2020 which imposes a fine of KSh 20,000 and a jail term of six months, or both, for anyone found not wearing a mask in public as a preventative measure against the spread of the pandemic. Whether wearing a mask is an effective measure is a topic of discussion for another day!

This article seeks to encourage safe disposal of the same and emphasize how reckless and unsafe disposal paves way for pollution into our water bodies and thus oceans. With thousands of masks being discarded to the environment, this paves way for not only an imminent but also a catastrophic threat to our Oceans. Whereas truly the PPE’s could be critical to the current pandemic scenario, proper and safe ways to dispose the masks is something that needs to be addressed.

Way Forward

One of the best solutions of littering is education campaigns on the environmental hazards of littering and introducing stringent laws on the same. This campaigns should include encouraging use of recyclable items. It is no rocket science that objects thrown in our everyday environment often end up in our oceans and other water bodies.

Our littering laws should become more pertinent awake of this covid-19 and also post covid-19 period, whereas disposal of the new waste which could give rise to degeneration of our oceans. This new waste includes; face masks, plastic hand gloves and disposable cleaning wipes. Careless and improper disposal is a big contributor to ocean pollution. So next time you think of littering, think twice! Happy World Oceans Day.

The above article appeared on the African Warrior Online Magazine on 9th of June,2020

The Author is an Advocate of the High Court, Principal Partner at Juliet Nyangai & Company Advocates and an apt nature lover. She is passionate about Animal Welfare and Conservation.

Ms J.O Nyangái can be reached on:

Twitter: @nyangaij  Email: nyangaij@gmail.com 

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