A new report raises concerns about disposable masks and other protective gear polluting oceans, bays and other bodies of water.

OceansAsia estimates 1.56 billion (yes, billion) masks manufactured and used in response to the coronavirus pandemic are polluting the world’s oceans and bodies of water. That is a staggering environmental number, but it also comes after 52 billion masks were manufactured worldwide in 2020 to response the pandemic, according to the international conservation group.

The problem of pollution, including from plastics, is a major concern on the Shore, where the health of the Chesapeake Bay and our watershed are extremely important.

The environmental challenges stem from the plastic materials in some masks and other personal protective gear. Plastics literally take forever to degrade.

The OceansAsia study estimates plastic pollution kills more than 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, more than 1 million birds and countless fish and invertebrates every year. The economic costs of the pollution is $13 billion (yes, billion), according to the conservation group.

Plastic pollution has been a big worry in the Pacific Ocean due to environmental disregards from some Asian countries.

But we should worry about mask pollution becoming a problem here on the Delmarva Peninsula and for the Bay, where we already have worries about oysters, crabs and the overall ecosystem.

The Bay, the beaches and all of our watershed are the economic, social and environmental backbones of the Shore.

So many of our jobs — from tourism to the seafood industries — rely on the health of the Bay and the beauty of our shorelines and beaches.

We are by no means advocating against masks, but we all need to make sure we dispose of them responsibly.

We can also think about sustainability and conservation. Those concepts have been drilled into us on other fronts. We should not forget about them now.

We can certainly wear cloth and reusable masks and protective gear to help protect our most vulnerable, as well as our coworkers.

The state of Maryland has also been running ads promoting wearing masks, along with Gov. Larry Hogan’s catch-phrase admonition to “wear the damn mask.”

Maybe the state and conservation groups should also launch a campaign to remind us all to properly dispose of masks, other gear and plastics in general.

We want to protect our seniors and those with medical conditions who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

We also need to be mindful of the Bay, the ocean and our watershed.

The sobering report on plastics pollution, including from masks and other pandemic gear, should remind us of the universal laws of unexpected and unintended consequences.

It should also remind us always to be mindful and aware of how our individual and collective actions can impact the environment, the Bay and the Shore.

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