(WFLA/NBC) – Have you seen all of the disposable masks littering parking lots and sidewalks? That’s not the only place they’re turning up.
There are 1.5 billion single-use masks in the ocean, according to research by conservation group “Ocean-Asia.”
Environmental experts are scrambling to see what damage that could do to wildlife.
Andrew Wunderley of the Charleston Waterkeeper said the most common misconception is that disposable face masks are made of cloth, when they actually are woven plastic, making them detrimental to wildlife if left behind.
“If you show me people, I’ll show you littered masks, littered plastic bottles and bags and all those sorts of things,” Wunderley said.
“From there it makes it’s way, you know, into the fish that we eat, the shrimp, the oysters, and all those little species that live in our marsh and use our marsh as nursery and critical habitat.”
He said it’s more than just disposable masks.
“The gloves are especially bad, they look a lot like a plastic bag does which looks a lot like a jelly fish does which means that they’re food for you know fish, for turtles, or anything else that’s out there.
Wunderly said an easy alternative to keep yourself, and marine life, safe is to use reusable fabric face masks and to watch your waste.
“These estuaries, these rivers, and these creeks are really the point of first contact for this pollution to make it into the ocean. If we can stop it here, we can stop it from impacting the ocean,” he said.