Public life in Italy has ground to a halt as the country begins its second week of nationwide quarantine to slow the spread of coronavirus. While the streets have been empty of people, residents in Venice have discovered that the city’s canals have cleared up significantly, revealing visible fish swimming throughout.
With the lack of tourists that usually abound, the accompanying lack of traffic has allowed sediment to stay at the bottom.
“The water now looks clearer because there is less traffic on the canals, allowing sediment to stay at the bottom,” a spokesperson for the Venice mayor’s office told CNN. “It’s because there is less boat traffic that usually brings sediment to the top of the water’s surface.”
But there is an actual environmental benefit to the lack of traffic, which usually includes public water taxis and buses called vaporetti.
“The air, however, is less polluted since there are less vaporetti and boat traffic than usual because of the restricted movement of residents,” the spokesperson said.
Venice residents have been protesting overcrowding of the city due to tourism; it generally hosts 36 million tourists a year. Last November, the waves caused by large cruise ships during heavy rainfall caused flooding and infrastructure damage that led to a state of emergency.
Italy has been on lockdown since March 11, with all non-essential businesses closed.
The coronavirus has been causing environmental change to other areas of the world as well.
In China, a huge reduction in traffic has resulted in less air pollution, as shown in NASA satellite images. These maps show levels of nitrogen dioxide, a noxious gas that originates from the burning of fossil fuels.
“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a press release.
Although a dropoff in pollution is typically seen this time of year due to the Chinese new year, experts believe this year is different.
“This year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer,” Liu said. “I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimize the spread of the virus.”
It’s nice to know an environmental reset might be a silver lining to this pandemic!
Correction: A previous version of this story implied that swans in Venice were a result of the city’s shutdown; however, swans are often spotted in parts of Venice. We regret the error.