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474 pieces of PPE found littering Tampa Bay in one month

PPE litter is a rising concern as mask and glove use remain high. PPE can create hazards for marine life and can result in an increase in microplastic in our water.

TAMPA, Fla. — The beach is one of the safest places to be right now, as long as you keep your distance from others.

“Go enjoy the beaches. As far as I can tell, they're the safest place you can be unless you want to go fishing, which would be even safer," said Dr. John Sinnott, an infectious disease doctor with USF Health and Tampa General Hospital.

Unfortunately, the effects of COVID-19 are still being felt by the beaches, just in a different way.

Tens of thousands of pieces of PPE are winding up on our shores and in our water.  In Hillsborough County alone, hundreds of pieces of PPE were picked up in one month.

 “So this year, what we found during the month of September was 474, individual pieces of PPE, said Laura Riiska with Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful. The organization works year-round to keep Hillsborough County clean.  

During this year's International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers with Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful picked up all of those pieces of PPE to keep them out of the water.

“As far as like the gloves, anything with plastic, plastic never really goes away. It just gets smaller. And so then you have microplastics which we end up drinking in our water, the animals end up ingesting," said Riiska.

It is estimated that 129 billion disposable face masks and 65 billion gloves are being used every month through this pandemic. And those items can create big problems. 

"Single-use masks and gloves are made of plastics, meaning these items do not biodegrade over time. As unsightly as single-use PPE litter is on land, it may very well be deadly once in the ocean. We can expect lightweight, synthetic gloves to behave similarly to plastic bags, for example, which easily snag on underwater structures and are often mistaken for jellyfish by foraging sea turtles and other ocean creatures," explained Nick Mallos, the senior director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program in a recent op-ed. 

Seventy-six countries participated in this year's International Coastal Cleanup; and while the total trash collected is still be counted, so far, 62,210 pieces of PPE were collected.

It's a big concern for the world’s oceans, as well as for Tampa Bay residents, right here at home.

"Look at look around us. Everyone comes here, we live in paradise," said Riiska. "We live where people want to go swimming, boating, fishing. And so if we have debris and trash in our waters, it's not going to really be very appealing to have any kind of recreational activity.”

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