As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold last spring, a certain type of news story started to spring up—the idea that, in the absence of people, nature was returning to a healthier, more pristine state. There were viral reports of dolphins in the canals of Venice, Italy, and pumas in the streets in Santiago, Chile.
But new research shows that the true effect of suddenly removing people from so many environments has turned out to be much more complex. Overall, good or bad for nature? “It’s impossible to say,” says Amanda Bates, an ecologist at Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador who led an international team of researchers studying how lockdowns have affected the natural world.
As many would expect, they did find evidence of nature benefiting from the sudden drop in air, land, and water travel. Wildlife also benefited from reduced air and noise pollution as industry, natural resource extraction, and manufacturing declined. But the whole story is more complicated. Read more in Hakai Magazine.