Story at a glance

  • A penguin in Brazil died after swallowing a discarded N95 face mask.
  • The Instituto Argonauta is raising awareness of the dangers of littering, especially on beaches.
  • Hundreds of penguins have died on the Brazilian coast so far this year.

COVID-19 has taken many victims, but a penguin found dead on a Brazilian beach has mankind to blame. 

A team from the Instituto Argonauta, a coastal and marine conservation nongovernmental organization, first recovered the penguin on Juquei beach and found a lot of sand in its malnourished body. But after the penguin was taken to the Argonaut's "Stabilization Unit," an exam found an N95 face mask curled up in its stomach.  


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"The consequences of the large number of people who attended the beaches of São Paulo (Ubatuba, Caraguatuba, São Sebastião and Ilhabela) on the extended holiday of September 7 are not over and this time it may have cost the life of a Magellan Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) whose cause of death is tied to a mask found inside his stomach,” the organization wrote in Portuguese in a release

Magellanic penguin season began in June, as the sea birds migrate from Patagonia, Argentina, in search of food. Since then the institute has carried out more than 500 rescues through the end of August, but only one has survived. The latest casualty was found two days after Brazil celebrated its independence day on Sept. 7, when — despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic’s toll on the country — locals crowded the beaches. 


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“This case is unequivocal proof that this type of waste causes harm and mortality in marine fauna, in addition to the irresponsibility of the person who dispenses a mask in an inappropriate place, as it is medical waste with risk of contamination from other people," said oceanographer and president of the Argonauta Institute Hugo Gallo Neto in a statement. “We feel that the lack of education of the population that frequents the north coast regarding the issue of waste needs to be addressed efficiently at all levels, from children in schools, even with the creation of stricter legislation, to prevent people from placing trash anywhere.”

Neto noted that while the pandemic alleviated littering by keeping people home, it also created a new type of waste — face masks. The institute, which has been monitoring littering on the beaches in São Paulo, is also proposing inspection policies and better placement of public garbage cans and dumps. 


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Published on Sep 23, 2020