Author: Rachel Krasna
COVID-19 has shaken our world in ways that we have never before experienced. Many countries have shifted lockdown restrictions months into the coronavirus, leaving other nations to inevitably tighten the rules. While we wade through an unprecedented global pandemic, the ecologist in us can’t help but wonder; “what does Mother Nature make of all this?”
Air Quality observed in Venice, Italy Before/After COVID-19 (Source:Insider) credit: Manuel Silvestri/Reuters
While recent reports indicate CO₂ levels are higher than ever, notable CO₂ decreases due to a global “slowing down” were documented as early as March 2020. Let’s start with the obvious factor: people stopped moving. Movement is characterized as mass transportation, so think air travel, trains, private vehicles, and public transportation. The world started reducing import and export patterns previously held as norms. Goods from one country might not have been permitted into another country or location, thus eliminating any constant transit pattern. The ports that were once open for business found themselves at a standstill with delays and in some cases indefinite closures. The fuel sources for our travel needs were no longer in large demand due to fewer vehicle trips, and less cargo movement and overall port activity. Scientists have even coined “Anthropause” as the hot term describing the slowed travel phenomenon.
Probably the most visible change was improvements in air quality. From Mumbai and China to the US, population lockdowns significantly improved air quality and visibility. Human health can benefit from reduced air pollution and more species can rebound given less vessel traffic and anthropogenic impacts.
Observed air quality improvements, Beijing China (Source: AGU)
Global lockdowns have allowed populations of protected species and migratory species to resurge. Most coastal fleets have stayed docked in port due to COVID-19, which can be seen on the Global Fishing Watch satellite tracker of fishing activity. China, Spain, Italy, and France saw 50-75% reductions in coastal fishing activity compared to data from Spring 2019. Industrial fishing activity was only down 10% compared to the same period last year, likely because the fleets remain offshore for months at a time. The US Mid-Atlantic region has seen horseshoe crab populations stabilizing during the critical mating season. Hopes remain high for these symbiotic species and increased horseshoe crab and red knot populations. Marine life has flourished in Italy’s coastal areas and harbors. The Italian coastguard observed significantly improved water quality in previously industrialized areas. The once polluted waterways are now visited by fish, corals, and show increased whale activity. However, COVID-19 has contributed to considerable marine waste, including masks, bottles, and various plastics. Officials still work to remove waste and preserve marine ecosystems and shift to a cleaner baseline.
An uptick in single-use plastic products has been an unfortunate consequence of global concerns and disease prevention practices. From gloves, masks, hand sanitizer bottles, and medical equipment, plastics are critical tools during the battle against COVID-19. Plastics might have practical and even life-saving applications for medical workers and maintaining germ-safe daily practices, but we need to shift wherever possible to consuming fewer resources and normalizing sustainable alternatives. While we are still facing numerous health emergencies and concerns, pulling back from our plastic use will help protect the integrity of our ecosystems.
Here are some practical suggestions for kicking our old plastic habits:
- Eliminate using plastic wraps or plastic packaging. Most grocery store items, restaurant take-out containers, or online orders of household supplies come choked in plastic packaging. Take the extra step to select items with no or minimal wrapping, and seek out sustainable brands which already source eco-friendly alternatives!
- Emphasize gear sterilization techniques/preparation before leaving the house (i.e. hiking/ outdoor recreation/ beach activity/ boating/ or returning to work). The virus does not appear to be leaving anytime soon, so we should continue to take proactive steps to keep our loved ones, neighbors, and homes safe. Be sure to plan ahead before heading out for a day trip or activity by bringing sanitizer, a reusable mask, and wiping down any public spaces (park bench/seating/grills) before and after use. Adding these small habits to your new routine will protect you and your family, but also those around you.
CO-Founder & CEO Shimrit Perkol’s message through the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation strikes a chord:
“This is a wake-up call…to set new environmental standards for coastal and marine construction. We can’t stop the progress, and we must protect our communities. But we can do it in a way that allows marine life to thrive, using nature-based solutions and ecological engineering. To work with nature, for humanity and nature as one. To achieve this, we must deploy innovation from the emerging blue tech and climate tech arena. There are sustainable solutions. We must use them and not cling on to our old ways. The UN SDGs are our beacon. And together we must take concrete actions to reach these goals and beyond. SDG 14, Life Below Water is the least achieved goal of all, while oceans make 71% of our planet!.”
As we all continue to experience the ups and downs of adjusting life to COVID-19, maintaining a sustainable attitude is a factor we can control in our daily lives. Now that we are not traveling or relying on heavy shipping industries, we are starting to see marine life rebound. This is a pivotal point in our earth’s history to reform, repair, and secure the planet’s future. Human health and ecosystem health are intertwined, so we must take concrete action to change habits and create a new, eco-friendly, business as usual.
(https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/07/air-pollution-linked-to-far-higher-covid-19-death-rates-study-finds, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200511124444.htm, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/03/04/811019032/why-chinas-air-has-been-cleaner-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak).