Covid-19 and the Environment: The Good and the Bad
By: Clare Gillis and Sarah O'Leary
When the coronavirus pandemic continued to worsen, virtually everyone's lives changed dramatically. With millions missing out on milestones such as graduations, weddings, concerts, sporting events and more, normal life came to a screeching halt. In a series of unprecedented events, suddenly everyone was strongly encouraged to socially distance in order to maintain the safety of themselves and everyone around them and to follow CDC guidelines. While these trying times are typically remembered now as a time for dying hair, watching tiger king, and making whipped coffee among other odd ways people found to keep themselves occupied, lockdown has had a drastic effect on the environment as well. The pandemic not only affected people, but every other inhabitant of Earth and even the planet itself. While it yielded some negatives, there were also extreme positives that quickly made themselves known, with COVID showing the good and the bad that comes with a life altering virus.
Throughout the past year, the pandemic has introduced a whole other myriad of problems that now need to be dealt with. The introduction of new pollutants, most notably masks, have caused serious problems for animals. With devastating images showing animals being tied up by the strings of the masks, or ingesting the material in excess, people littering masks proved to be disappointingly common and detrimental. With gloves and face masks popping up all over the world, even being found used as nesting material by birds, cleanups were organized but those who litter are littering at a faster rate than those who volunteer at clean ups.
It is clear that these materials could be drifting around the world for decades to come. With some parts of France seeing an almost 50% increase in medical waste, masks are not the only concern, and the serious impacts of COVID on the environment will be long lasting if not addressed properly.
Although the global pandemic has introduced a new waste crisis, it has also brought about good in the world. With the halting of travel and the limited need for machines that release fossil fuels such as cars, planes and boats the pandemic revealed just how massive of an effect humans had on wildlife and the environment. Without the constant flow of tourists all around the world, wildlife thrived more than it has in decades. The recently released documentary titled The Year Earth Changed, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, shows how the worldwide lockdown has opened the door for nature to bounce back through uplifting stories. The pandemic gave the endangered sea turtle species an opportunity to grow back in numbers. The breeding season this year has skyrocketed with loggerhead sea turtles. Typically, loggerhead sea turtles have the average nesting success rate of 40%, but now, this number has jumped to 61% with beaches closed to humans, which is the highest turtle researchers have seen in a while. Humpback whales in Alaska haven’t had to share the waters with ships recently. The waters are now 25 times quieter underwater. As a result, these ocean giants are talking more than ever over a longer distance with each other as their sounds are no longer being drowned out by the ships. Similarly, dolphins in New Zealand are able to triple their communication and killer whales are able to use their sonar more effectively when hunting. In Kenya, the safari season has been cancelled which has drastically improved the cheetah's ability to feed and protect its young. Cheetahs like to use a soft chirping call to communicate to their cubs to come to them. The sounds are usually drowned out by safari tours and moving vehicles, masking the calls that cheetahs rely on to survive. Without people around, the population of cheetahs have been able to recover because communication has improved and more cubs are surviving. In addition to improvements to species’ quality of life, the quality of the environment has also been able to improve. Air pollution has declined in many countries, with NASA stating that global nitrogen dioxide concentrations had decreased by almost 20% between February and November 2020. In India, a country that suffers from some of the worst pollution in the world, has been able to see a breathtaking sight that has been invisible for 30 years after only 12 days in lockdown… the Himalyan Mountains.
While the general population streets were eerily quiet and vacations seemed so far out of reach, it gave the Earth a chance to take a very necessary breather. The effects that the pandemic had on wildlife and the environment acted as a wake up call. It is absolutely crucial that we find a way to coexist with nature, without putting it in a decline.
The coronavirus not only impacted everyday lives, but also the quality of air and life for animals everywhere, taking away problems while also creating new ones. While there is still so much to understand, it is obvious that environmental studies will reveal the true cost of the pandemic- and if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
The Year Earth Changed