THE coronavirus pandemic may be bad for humans, but it is proving good for the environment.
Crystal-clear waterways and smog-free air were reported across major European cities in the wake of government-imposed lockdowns in Italy, Spain and France and heavy restrictions in the United Kingdom.
The UK Guardian credited the shutting down of industrial activity and limitations imposed on human movement to the slashing of air pollution levels around the world as satellite imagery from the European Space Agency shows.
In Italy, labelled by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the new epicentre of COVID-19, the Venetian canals are running clear for the first time in over a century. The reduction in boat traffic along the meandering iconic waterways has not only greatly reduced pollutants it has also inspired fishes to swim inland into the canals.
In China, the nucleus of the pandemic, satellite images from NASA and the European Space Agency have shown a significant decrease in nitrogen dioxide pollution in the early months of this year after much of the country went into lockdown.
All schools and several non-essential businesses shut down and the public barred from beaches and rivers here in Trinidad and Tobago. We reached out to environmentalists around the country to find out what if any changes they have observed in the local ecosystem.
Birds and sea life thriving in Tobago but dogs starving
Environment Tobago president Bertrand Bhikarry said the immediate effects of the eco-break can be seen in the quality of the water and the increase in bird and fish life along the shores of the sister isle.
“There are things that are absolutely different. The water is cold and clear and the flying fish are very visible. Less people around also means the birds are coming out to feed,” Bhikarry told the Express via phone yesterday.
The environmental lobbyist said, however, there were some unexpected negative effects of the fall in human visits.
“Stray dogs are starving, they have less food to scavenge. There are animals that have learnt to depend on humans for food. So they eat what we leave behind. You are seeing this with the large number of rats dying in streets. They are eating the poison because it’s all there is to eat.
“The problem is just yesterday I saw a hawk pick up a poisoned dead rat. So that’s where it gets tricky. We don’t want our birds dying,” he said.
No garbage on North Coast but turtles exposed
Arlene Williams, president of Las Cuevas Eco-friendly association, meanwhile said for the first time in as long as she could remember there is absolutely no garbage on the north coast beaches at Maracas and Las Cuevas Bay.
“The beach is clean. There is little in fact there is no garbage at all. That is amazing,” Williams told the Express via phone yesterday.
Like her counterpart in Tobago, however, Williams said the absence of humans poses another problem to the environment. With strict no access to the beach policies in place she now worries for the safety of the turtles that come to lay their eggs on the north coast shores.
“What we concerned about is the turtles, nobody there to monitor the turtles. Seeing that they going to extinction, what if people go and take the turtles, who is going to protect them from poachers?” she asked.
Beautiful waters as usual in Guaya
Sheldon Wilson, president of La Savanne Village Council in Guayaguayare, said life is “normal” in his hometown and their waters are as “beautiful as ever”.
“Is life as normal down here. Fishermen are going out to work as normal. We have beautiful water these days is just plenty sea weed in the water,” Wilson said.
The said residents from the area are heeding Government advice and staying away from the beaches. He revealed, however, that he observed some strange faces on the beach defying the order.
“I saw one or two strangers down on the beach. Small families were down there but no big set of gathering. Other than that there is nothing abnormal or bad happening,” he said.
How long will it last?
While the temporary lockdowns and limitations are in the most part benefiting local eco-system, one environmentalist is questioning how long will they last once things go back to normal.
Gary Aboud, environmentalist and corporate secretary of conservation group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS), says once big business is placed above environmental best practice we can all expect the good changes to be very short-lived.
“It would be business as usual because the human species is driven by self-profit and benefit.
Asking people to adhere to best practice is a fantasy approach. People aren’t interested in best practice, so we can’t learn anything from the benefit of shutdown unless we have strong rules in place supported by law and regulatory bodies,” Aboud said.
Aboud pointed to the Venetian canals, saying that, too, would be just as brown as it always has been within days of Italy lifting its lockdown. He called on local and regional bodies to work with international bodies and the UN to develop a cohesive universal plan for protecting the environment.
“Italy is going to become just as contaminated when the corona passes unless the international agencies and regional business and government organisation can unify the playing field, with standard global local and regional regulations. If not, the haphazard mishmash conflicting approach will continue to rain chaos on human health and natural ecosystem,” Aboud advised.
Whatever lens you choose to look at the environmental impact of the coronavirus through, it remains undeniable, that if only for a week or two, the planet got a chance to take a breath.