Without doubt, the Coronavirus has affected and changed our lives a lot. Many shops, bars and restaurants closed while we have to practice social distancing and self-isolation. But how has Corona affected the environment and our wildlife? In todays blog post we want to have a look at the positive and negative impacts of Corona on the environment, the rumours that flushed the media, and how the future might look like.
Written by Lea
Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, the media was full of news about positive impacts on our environment triggered by the pandemic. Some even called the pandemic “Nature´s comeback”. And yes, within a few days air and car traffic as well as industries were drastically decreased all around the world, which lead to a reduction of emissions and greenhouse gasses, noise pollution and a locally better air quality. There were even stories that wild animals regain their former habitat and cities. But what is true about these allegations? Is it true that the pandemic is helping the planet to recover from what we have done to it the last thousands of years?
But before we go deeper into the impacts of Corona on the environment, we need to understand how Corona and the environment are linked.
The relation between Corona and the environment
Many pandemics are the result of zoonotic diseases (or zoonosis). A zoonosis is a disease that passes from animals to humans. Examples for zoonotic diseases are Ebola, Swine fever or Corona. Often a zoonosis (or the start of a pandemic) arises in places where animals and humans live close together or directly interact with one another. Such places are pig/cattle farms, battery farms or wet markets (especially live animal markets). Due to the destruction of habitat, wildlife and humans are forced to live closer together than they naturally would. This increases the chance of a pandemic. So, keeping a distance is important. But not only between humans, but also between humans and animals.
Rumours about Corona
Already at the beginning of the pandemic stories about dolphins in Venice (Italy), drunk elephants in a Chinese vineyard and vanished smog above cities popped up. The problem with such stories is, that they are often not (completely) true. In case of the dolphin story, the photos supporting this story are simply not taken in Venice. The story with the elephants is a similar one. Yes, there were elephants in the vineyards but not to get drunk and sleep it off. The photos were actually taken way before the outbreak of Corona and it is not a rarity that elephants (and other wildlife) pass through vineyards (or other human made settlements).
However, the story about the vanished smog is actually true. As said before, within a matter of days traffic and industries were drastically decreased all around the world, which was, of course, directly visible and measurable in the air quality. However, this short-term reduction of emissions and greenhouse gasses doesn´t have a long-term effect if we don´t change anything about our way of living once Corona is over. The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere didn´t change yet.
Impacts of Corona on the environment worldwide
The impacts of Corona on the environment and wildlife varies from country to country. Some countries had a complete lockdown, whereas other countries had a curfew or no measures at all. However, these are a few direct impacts of Corona on the environment:
- National parks and nature reserves in some European countries (e.g. Germany) were/are overrun by visitors. This leads to an increased disturbance of wild animals, which use such places as a refuge.
- The shut-down of global (eco)tourism affects conservation projects and NGO´s all around the world. Many wildlife/nature conservation projects and NGO´s depend on (international) tourists and donations. Currently, these projects and NGO´s don´t have enough financial means to pay their employees and to take actions to protect nature/wildlife.
- Poaching of (endangered) species and deforestation are on the rise, due to missing human presence (e.g. tourists, researchers, rangers) in nature reserves and national parks. Usually poachers try to avoid tourist hotspots, as the chances of being caught are high. However, since the outbreak of the pandemic, many national parks and nature reserves are closed and many rangers are left out of work. So, poachers take advantage of the empty reserves.
- Furthermore, the virus itself is also a threat to wild animals (Corona = zoonosis). There have been 7 cases in the USA where large cats (tigers and lions) in a Zoo were tested positive and showed symptoms of Corona. Luckily, zoo animals can be treated, however, wild animals can´t. So, if a wild animal is infected with Corona, this might lead to the extinction of the whole population.
Corona isn´t the first, nor will it be the last pandemic. It is important to realise that a healthy and diverse environment is the best defence against pandemics. There´s still a lot to work on and to change. We need to live and act more sustainable and need to get away from surplus production and consumption. We have to take Corona as a chance and should avoid to fall back into old patterns. We have to protect wildlife and nature and give them space in order to keep enough distance. Corona showed us that drastic and fast change is possible, if we want to (e.g. less flying = less emissions = better air quality). However, short-term changes don´t have long-term effects!
Last but not least, we should not forget that we are facing a much more severe problem than Corona. A problem that will kill (or is already killing) even more people. A problem that favours environmental catastrophes and (zoonotic) diseases: CLIMATE CHANGE!