How COVID-19 is Affecting Wildlife and the Environment

Live Science

Zarina Sotero, Staff Writer |

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, social media users have begun to point out the environmental impact of social distancing. Posts regarding decreases in pollution, Venice’s clear water, monkeys roaming the streets of Thailand and more have been going viral. Some users have even gone as far to say, “We {humans} are the virus.”

Pollution monitoring satellites have detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) all over the world. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “NO2 primarily gets in the air from the burning of fuel. NO2 forms from emissions from cars, trucks and buses, power plants, and off-road equipment.” NASA and the European Space Agency reported that their satellites “detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China.” They included that there is evidence to show this is partly due to the “economic slowdown following the outbreak of coronavirus.” The drastic reductions of NO2 began near Wuhan and spread across the entire country. Satellites also detected significant NO2 reductions over major cities in the U.S. including Los Angeles, Seattle, New York and Atlanta following orders to social distance and shelter in place.

Many social media users have pointed out that the water in Venice canals are visibly clearer, being the most transparent it’s been in nearly 60 years. In addition to the clear waters, some have claimed to have spotted dolphins in Venetian waters. Although the water in the Venice canals is clearer, it does not mean it is cleaner. “The water now looks clearer because there is less traffic on the canals, allowing the sediment to stay on the bottom,” the Venice mayor’s office explained. As for the dolphins in Venetian waters, those claims were completely false. National Geographic debunked the claim in saying, “The “Venetian” dolphins were filmed at a port in Sardinia, in the Mediterranean Sea, hundreds of miles away.” Sardinia is an Italian island where dolphin-watching is a common tourist attraction.

Although the claim that there were dolphins in Venice were ultimately proven to be false, some animals are taking to the streets in different tourist-heavy cities due to social distancing. A video posted to Facebook showed a group of Macaque monkeys running around a city plaza in Thailand.

In the video, something gets thrown in the middle of the macaques, and the monkeys end up breaking into a massive brawl. Macaques are usually fed by tourists visiting the city, but due to social distancing practices, they have since lost their primary source of food. Meanwhile, in Japan, deer have been roaming the streets find their meals. Over 1,000 deer occupy Nara Park, a popular tourist attraction. The animals rarely leave the park boundaries to get their meals because tourists typically feed them rice crackers. However, due to travel restrictions, tourists have steered clear of the park, causing the deer to wander into the city in search of food. This has put them in danger of getting hit by vehicles or dying from consumption of garbage.

However, it is important to remember that viral social media posts contain misinformation that can be misleading. While there have been some positive environmental impacts, such as less air pollution, these effects are only temporary. Once the pandemic is over and people return to their everyday lives, everything will return to the way it was before. Unfortunately, it is likely that air quality will return to its previous state, boat traffic will darken the Venice waters and animals will return to their normal environments.

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