In the early days of the pandemic, one of the first pieces of good news we received was that the canals in Venice were clearing up. People posted gleeful pictures of dolphins and swans returning to the city—creatures that hadn’t been seen within Venitian limits for nearly 60 years.
While this may seem like an indication that a few weeks of quarantine is all that was needed to counteract hundreds of years of pollution in the Venice waterways, that’s not exactly the case. The water is clearer and the animals are returning, mainly because of decreased city traffic. Boats aren’t moving around and stirring everything up, so all the cloudy silt has sunk to the bottom, clarifying the water on top. When the city returns to its usual hustle and bustle, we may see the wildlife move away again.
Despite the fact that this news isn’t as good as we had originally hoped, scientists have noted a few measurable ways the Earth has improved since humans stopped moving around so much. While we can’t join together to celebrate Earth Day this year, let’s take a moment to honor the ways our planet is healing in the midst of a pandemic.
Less Air Pollution
It’s no secret that people are driving less because so much of the world is under stay-at-home orders. While many of us miss going out on a daily basis, the good news is that scientists are noticing a dramatic drop in air pollution levels.
Satellites have detected a measurable reduction in nitrogen dioxide levels worldwide. Nitrogen dioxide is a common pollutant that comes from cars, busses, and power plants, and it can be harmful to human health. It’s especially irritating to people with lung conditions, so the decreased levels of air pollution could have major benefits for lung health. Fewer planes are flying right now, dramatically decreasing CO2 emissions as well.
Not only are stay-at-home orders helping to prevent us from contracting the coronavirus, they are also making our air cleaner. That’s doubly good news!
Less Noise Pollution
If you’ve gone outside recently, you may have noticed that the birds seem to be chirping more loudly. The birds actually haven’t increased their volume at all. So much of society has shut down that there’s actually less noise pollution overall, allowing you to hear songbirds more easily.
While noise pollution may not seem like it would be particularly harmful to the environment or to us, too much noise can have adverse effects. In humans, excessive noise can cause high blood pressure, stress-related illnesses, and sleeping problems.
Noise pollution can also affect our marine friends in a negative way. Noise in the ocean can increase stress hormone levels in marine mammals, which can decrease reproductive success. This is a crucial issue for mammals on the endangered species list. Cruise ships are some of the biggest culprits for noise pollution in the ocean, so the fact that they aren’t sailing right now is good news for sea animals with sensitive ears and echolocation systems like whales and dolphins.
While this temporary pause may feel inconvenient and scary, we can at least find comfort in the fact that it is improving the health of both people and our planet in multiple ways.
More Peace for Wildlife
While it’s undoubtedly good for humans to get out and enjoy nature, keeping parks closed around the world for a little while is doing a lot of good for wildlife. One example is the Irish Dexter grazing cows in Northern Ireland.
The Giant’s Causeway, a famous National Trust site in Northern Ireland, has long been experiencing a depletion of natural wildlife. All National Trust sites are closed to the public right now, so park rangers took the opportunity to reintroduce some Irish Dexter grazing cows—a species that used to freely roam the causeway—to the site. The areas in which these cattle are now living haven’t been grazed in years, and grazing assists processes that are essential to pastoral ecosystems. Scientists are hoping that the Giant’s Causeway ecosystem will be much healthier by the time humans return to the site.
Cows aren’t the only animals that are reclaiming natural areas once dominated by humans. People all over the world are sharing photos of wildlife like moose, deer, and mountain goats edging closer to civilization. Not only do they provide some much-needed points of interest in our own backyards, but hopefully the increase in wildlife will encourage a more symbiotic relationship between humans and animals once the pandemic is over.
A New Tomorrow
While we are all looking forward to the day where civilization reopens and we can resume our normal lives, hopefully the environmental lessons we learn from this time of quarantining will affect real positive change for our climate.
Now that we’ve seen what slowing down human life can do for our Earth, perhaps we’ll elect to adopt a slightly slower-paced lifestyle once stay-at-home orders are lifted. Perhaps we’ll be so inspired by the Earth’s improvements during this time that we’ll return to work more willing to seek innovative ways to reduce our carbon footprint.
Who knows? By Earth Day 2021, our planet may be permanently changed for the better in more ways than one.
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Hannah Smith is Joy Organics Director of Communications. She is driven by her passion for providing clear and accessible wellness and CBD education. In 2015, she received her BA in Media, Culture and the Arts from The King’s College in New York City and before Joy Organics, worked as writer and photographer in the Middle East and North Africa. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Vice, Vox, Denver Post, and the Coloradoan.