• Meher Mehta

Impact of COVID-19 on the Environment

Updated: Mar 2

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread to more than 200 countries, affecting over 37 million people worldwide. Although the virus’s toll on human health has been at the forefront of media attention, the indirect impact of COVID-19 on the environment has not been fully analyzed.

Positive Impacts

Air Quality

Before the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, emissions of carbon dioxide were rising by about 1% per year over the past decade. In fact, according to a 2016 World Health Organization Report, 91% of the global population lives in areas with the worst air quality conditions. However, in early April, due to widespread shutdowns, daily global carbon emissions were down by 17% compared to last year, which corresponds to the level of emissions in 2006. Because of social distancing, less public transport [such as buses, trains, or planes] are used, reducing emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

Clean Beaches

Beach pollution is defined as any harmful substance that contaminates our coasts, ranging from plastic and trash to sewage and pesticides. More than 100,000 seabirds, sea turtles, seals, and other marine animals die each year after getting entangled in plastic or ingesting it. However, after a national state of emergency was called due to the pandemic, many beaches closed down to abide by social distancing policies. The lack of tourists has caused a notable change in the appearance of many beaches around the world. For example, beaches in Acapulco, Mexico, and Barcelona, Spain, now have crystal clear waters and cleaner beaches (ScienceDirect).

The above photo shows a general view of a beach in Barcelona, overcrowded on August 21, 2017 (L) and empty on May 13, 2020 (R), during the national lockdown to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 disease. [Photos by Josep LAGO / AFP]

Reduction of Environmental Noise Levels

Environmental noise is an accumulation of unwanted sound which can be caused by transportation, industrial processes, and recreational activities. Man-made sounds can mask animal sounds or audition; this can affect animal communication, use of space, or reproduction and affects many biological groups such as birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, mammals, and invertebrates. (Environmental Evidence Journal). The quarantine measures enacted by most governments have caused people to stay home, leading to a significant decrease in the use of public, private, and commercial transportation. All of these changes have caused the noise level to drop in most cities.

Negative effects