Is there any aspect of our physical, social and mental life that has not been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? Probably not. The same can be said about our environment. When the pandemic began, many sought to connect COVID-19 and our degrading climate and ecosystem. In the first wave of the lockdown, the internet was littered with pictures of ‘animals reclaiming’ spaces as the number of tourists came down, airlines came to a screeching halt, and the tourism industry, along with heavy industries etc., were put on hold.
Due to movement restrictions and a significant slowdown in social and economic activities, air quality improved in many cities, water pollution came down in some places, and in general, people ‘felt healthy’ when they were outside. However, the increased use of PPE (e.g., face mask, hand gloves, etc.), their haphazard disposal, and generation of a huge amount of hospital waste had and will continue to have, a negative impact on the environment.
Then, there is the environmental cost of fighting the pandemic. Not just hospital waste, the extensive use of disinfectants could also kill non-targeted beneficial species, which may create ecological imbalance.
The ‘positives’ from the pandemic
- One major and predominantly positive benefit of the pandemic for wildlife is less human travel due to which reduced roadkill, as shown in this study.
- A reduction in water travel and activity reduced the risk of ships striking and injuring or killing marine animals.
- The pandemic has also led to a decline in industry supply chains, reducing demand for commercial activities that exploit natural resources in many parts of the world.
- A reduction in water travel and activity reduced the risk of ships injuring or killing marine animals. It also reduced marine disruption caused by noise pollution from ships, fishing sonar, and recreational boats.
The negative ones:
- Studies have found that the pandemic may be causing harm to wildlife as it reduced human disturbance due to the lockdown benefitted invasive alien species by interrupting the actions that people were taking to control them. Take the recent surge in the rat population in Australia, for example.
- Some species that rely heavily on humans for feeding or scavenging, such as monkeys, gulls, and rats, are struggling during the pandemic.
- Reduced ecotourism rates have crippled organisations that rely on human visitors to feed and care for their animals.
- Plastic pollution from improperly disposed-of single-use COVID-19 protective gear also seems to be increasing the global plastic pollution problem.
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