2021 Photo Contest, Environment, Singles, Nominee

California Sea Lion Plays with Mask

Photographer

Ralph Pace

19 November, 2020

A curious California sea lion swims towards a face mask at the Breakwater dive site in Monterey, California, USA.


California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) are playful animals, native to western North America. With COVID-19 lockdowns in place across California, outdoor and natural beauty spots with plenty of wildlife became a popular focus for local travel. In many countries the wearing of face masks outdoors was obligatory. Similar destinations around the world became littered with abandoned masks. The BBC reported an estimated 129 billion disposable face masks and 65 billion throwaway gloves being used each month through the pandemic. Such personal protective equipment (PPE) can be mistaken for food by birds, fish, marine mammals, and other animals. PPE also contains plastic, and so contributes to the eight million tons of plastic that end up in the oceans every year. According to World Animal Protection, every year an estimated 136,000 seals, sea lions, and whales die from plastic entanglement. Surgical masks break down into millions of microplastic particles over time, which are eaten by fish and other animals, and therefore carry contamination back up the food chain, potentially also affecting humans.

About the photographer

Ralph Pace

Ralph Pace is a freelance underwater and environmental photographer based in Monterey, California. He holds a graduate degree in Marine Conservation from Scripps Institution o...

Technical information

Shutter Speed
1/80
ISO
640
Camera
Nikon D850

This image is collected in