Social media users have been outraged by a series of photos showing surgical masks and latex gloves littering the seabed. French group Operation Clean Sea (Opération Mer Propre) posted the photos on Facebook on May 23 after conducting a clean-up operation off the coast of the French town of Antibes.

The initial photos, posted on May 23, show surgical masks and latex gloves scattered on the seafloor. Opération Mer Propre, a group that works to prevent pollution in the ocean, reported that they picked up four masks and ten gloves over a period of two hours. This post provoked indignation and was shared more than 7,000 times on Facebook.

"Operation COVID-19 this morning… There you go, the first disposable masks have landed in the Mediterranean,” wrote the administrators of the Opération Mer Propre Facebook page in a post in French featuring photos of masks and gloves that they found on the seafloor on Saturday, May 23.
On the same day, the organisation also shared a video filmed by their co-founder Laurent Lombard, an avid free diver, during one of his dives in the Mediterraean. Throughout the course of the video, which lasts two minutes and twenty seconds, Lombard gathers about a dozen latex gloves and about as many masks.

"Sounds good to swim with Covid-19 this summer?” he wrote in French in the caption. “We were expecting them [and] they’ve arrived but not in the right place… The first disposable masks have appeared in the Mediterranean!" His video garnered more than 160,000 views.

Facebook users were quick to express outrage at Lombard’s post. 

After seeing Lombard’s video showing masks and gloves on the ocean floor, Facebook user Patrick Rajcek lamented (in French), “Man is the most pollutive animal on the planet… He’s who we should ban from certain public places.”
Another user, Kii Wiit, commented (in French), “The next person who tells me that people are going to change and become more aware after lockdown, I’m going to suffocate him with a mask and throw him into the dump!”

"We want to get people to understand that masks end up as rubbish, like everything else"

Members of the group thought that they would probably find masks and gloves in the Mediterranean, says co-founder Joffrey Peltier.
These are the first signs of a new kind of pollution. In the sea, we find all of the items that French people need and use on a daily basis. Masks are a new necessity. People throw them down the drain and they end up in the ocean.

Disposable masks are made from polystyrene, which is plastic. It will take 400 years for a mask to decompose. They float along with the current and could easily be swallowed by a mammal.

We want to get people to understand that masks end up as rubbish, like everything else and that they need to throw them away in the rubbish.

On May 18, Eric Pauget, a representative for the 7th district in Alpes-Maritime who is from the Les Républicains party, introduced a bill that would increase the fine for the illegal disposal of masks and gloves in public areas from 68 euros to 300 euros.

In mid-May, the French government ordered a billion protective masks, which will be distributed between now and December 2020.

Article by Marie Genries