Facemasks present concern for sea turtles

Green sea turtles could be at risk of ingesting facemasks, which have been widely used amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Brocken Inaglory

One toll of the COVID-19 pandemic for wildlife is the spread of facemasks in natural areas. In a routine fecal analysis of a dead green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) found off the coast of Japan, biologists found remnants of a disposable face mask, along with plastic, wood fragments and barnacles. While facemasks and other personal protective equipment has turned up in the wild before, researchers say it is the first evidence of the pandemic’s direct impact on marine turtles. They published the findings in Marine Pollution Bulletin.

The discovery came amid a routine effort to analyze sea turtle feces in the region to better understand how human activities affect marine diets. “Face masks had never been found in this survey before the pandemic, and, unfortunately, this is the first detection,” said author Takuya Fukuoka, a post-doctoral researcher at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology.

Researchers say the masks are often made of plastics that may contain endocrine-disrupting additives, which could be harmful when ingested.

Read the study in Marine Pollution Bulletin.