Covid face masks ‘devastating’ bird populations all over the world

Dr Alex Bond, one of the researchers involved in the project from the Natural History Museum in London, said human debris impacting avian wildlife is a “global issue”.

“When you start looking for this stuff, you’ll see it everywhere,” he told the BBC.

“We had reports from Japan, Australia, Sri Lanka, the UK, North America.”

Since its launch the site has had over 400 reports of either entanglement or nest incorporation of debris. In a study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, the researchers examined 114 reports containing PPE and found the majority (95) were of birds entangled or incorporating the pandemic waste into their nests.

The majority of sightings were in the US (29), England (16), Canada (13) and Australia (11), but photos from 23 different countries, including Germany, France, Finland, India and Italy, were also included.

“It’s almost all masks,” Dr Bond said.

“And if you think of the different materials a surgical mask is made from – there’s the elastic that we see tangled around birds’ legs or we might see birds injured by trying to ingest the fabric or the hard piece of plastic that secures it over your nose.

“So we use this catch-all term of ‘plastic’ but it’s a whole range of different polymers, and masks are a good example of that.”

Of 114 sightings reported, 106 (93 per cent) were facemasks, according to the study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.


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