Social distancing causing unintended environmental benefits

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PROVO — With daily life seemingly upended by the coronavirus pandemic, environmental scientists are beginning to see unintended climate benefits across the globe. A few of these environmental benefits have manifested themselves in the form of clearer water and cleaner air. 

The entire country of Italy has been under strict, government-mandated lockdown since March 9th of this year. Italians are only allowed to leave their homes for reasons deemed “essential” by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. This has left the streets completely empty, and the iconic Venice canals are free of all boat traffic.

This lockdown, and the lack of tourists, has caused the water in the Venice canals to run clear. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the canals were highly polluted and had low visibility. Aurel Borici, an Italian citizen, posted photos of the scenic canals on Twitter.

Aurel says that an unexpected side effect of the pandemic is that the “water flowing through the canals of Venice is clear for the first time in forever.” He also notes that fish are visible swimming up the canal, and swans have returned back to Venice. 

Other marine animals spotted back in Venice are dolphins. Locals say dolphins have not been seen swimming in the canals for over 60 years! 

Dolphin spotted in Venice amidst pandemic.

In China, where the COVID-19 virus began, the environmental effects of social distancing are also being felt. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, China has the worst air quality out of any other member country. Coronavirus restrictions are helping to alleviate this pollution. The European Space Agency shared this animation on Twitter, highlighting the decrease of nitrogen dioxide emissions in China’s atmosphere. 

One positive thing to keep in mind during this crisis is that Mother Nature is finally getting a much-needed break. Scientists are expecting more climate benefits to occur throughout the duration of this pandemic. 

Emissions before and after the pandemic.
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