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7 ways the planet has gotten better since the coronavirus shutdown

Though the coronavirus has caused havoc and widespread economic damage, it has had other big impacts: less pollution, less threatened wildlife in time for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Here are some of the top 10 ways.

Moored gondolas are reflected on the water of the Gran Canal, in Venice on April 6, 2020. The water in Venice's canal is much clearer because there is a lack of tourist-filled gondolas and sight-seeing boats that would normally stir up sediment and make the water look cloudy.
Moored gondolas are reflected on the water of the Gran Canal, in Venice on April 6, 2020. The water in Venice's canal is much clearer because there is a lack of tourist-filled gondolas and sight-seeing boats that would normally stir up sediment and make the water look cloudy.Read moreAndrew Medichini / AP

Though the coronavirus has caused life-threatening havoc and widespread economic damage, it has had other, unforeseen impacts: less pollution, a renewed embrace of gardening for some, less-threatened wildlife in some areas, and even better views of the Himalayas.

For sure, the virus’ sweeping negative effects are devastating. But, here are some of the top ways it has had some positive impact, even if only temporary, in time for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Animals roam in national parks

A Los Angeles Times photographer captured images of deer, coyotes, and other animals wandering through parts of Yosemite National Park, such as the large Curry Village campground, which would normally be filling with people this time of year — and where fearful animals would not normally tread.

But because the park is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, campgrounds and trails at Yosemite are empty of people.

As a result, “deer, bobcats, coyotes and bears no longer have to deal with the hordes of camera-toting tourists and vying to capture nature. They now roam unfettered,” the photographer noted.

And EcoWatch, an environmental news organization, is reporting that black bears are making the most of the park’s closure.

Elsewhere, jackals have been documented gathering in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park, according to the Washington Post and Associated Press. Normally, the park would be filled with runners, children, and picnickers.

Now, however, jackals have ventured out.

Less local pollution

At least two key pollutants in Philadelphia have dropped because of the sudden, drastic reduction in motor-vehicle and bus traffic.

The biggest drop came with nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, an indicator for a group of gases known as nitrogen oxides (NOx). The monitors show a big decline in NO2, which is a good thing since it is harmful to human health.

NO2 is pumped into the air during the burning of fossil fuels used in motor vehicles and power plants. Breathing high concentrations of the gas can irritate airways, aggravate respiratory diseases, and lead to coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.

NO2 levels were 22% lower this year than during the same period in 2019.

And PM2.5 (atmospheric particulate matter under 2.5 micrometers) is down 14% from the time Gov. Tom Wolf implemented stay-at-home orders starting in mid-March.

Philadelphia plans to release more details today about pollution levels since the coronavirus shutdown.

» READ MORE: How to celebrate Earth Day’s 50th anniversary while following stay-at-home orders

‘Victory’ gardens return

Whether prompted by boredom, the need for a kid-friendly activity, nice spring weather, or fear of not having access to fresh produce, suburban and urban homeowners are scooping up seeds by the handful and making them grow.

The concept of Victory Gardens was created by the U.S. government in World War I, when food shortages in war-torn Europe put the burden of feeding millions on Americans.

But now, as The Inquirer has reported, Pennsylvania residents have taken the impetus, and set up social media sites to draw like-minded gardeners. For example, Jennifer Aylward-Kasitz, 39, created a Facebook group for her Coatesville friends and neighbors to encourage them to get their hands dirty. “No experience needed,” the Chester County mom of three posted on the site.

She called her project the Coatesville Victory Garden Club.

But the movement is not just local. The pandemic has forced people to think about their connection to food, the Sierra Club reported, especially after seeing stripped grocery shelves.

Reuters reported that people worldwide are “turning to gardening as a soothing, family-friendly hobby that also eases concerns over food security as lockdowns slow the harvesting and distribution of some crops. Fruit and vegetable seed sales are jumping worldwide.”

» ASK US: Do you have a question about the coronavirus and how it affects your health, work and life? Ask our reporters.

Empty beaches, more turtles

Leatherback sea turtles, the largest living sea turtles, reaching up to 2,000 pounds, are making a comeback on Juno Beach in Florida, according to a report by CBS12. The beach is the most densely nested sea turtle beach in the world, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center told the news station.

And, for the first time in memory, people are banned from stepping near the nests while beaches remain closed during the pandemic.

So far this year the marine center has already counted 71 nests, nearly all leatherback sea turtles, well ahead of last year and it’s still early in the season.

“Our leatherbacks are coming in strong this year. It’s going to be a really good year for our leatherbacks,” said Sarah Hirsch, senior manager of research and data at the center.

Thailand is experiencing the same boon for leatherbacks, as its beaches are also empty of tourists. The species is endangered there.

Himalayas visible

Some residents in northern India are reporting that they can see the Himalaya Mountains 125 miles away for the first time in 30 years, according to news and social media reports.

“Mesmerizing, amazing, massive, surprising, never-before. There’s been no dearth on social media of words to express what people in Jalandhar district of Punjab in India were feeling,” reported SBS Hindi.

India is under a 21-day lockdown, and its Central Pollution Board is reporting a “significant improvement in air quality,” the news report stated.

CNN reported that “Delhi saw up to a 44% reduction in PM10 air pollution levels on the first day of its restrictions, India’s Central Pollution Control Board found. The PM10 standard measures airborne particulates 10 micrometers or smaller in diameter.”

The drops in air pollution are attributed to the shutdown of industry, absence of motor vehicles, and canceled airline flights.

Venice’s canals

The water in the famed canals of Venice is much clearer, though the first, breathless reports in March led readers to believe that the water was somehow less polluted because of the lack of tourists with the shutdown imposed March 10 in Italy.

Kristen Thyng, an assistant research professor at Texas A&M University, told AFAR that clear water does not indicate less pollution. Thyng said clear water can still be polluted.

And the office of the mayor of Venice told the publication that it’s likely the water is clear simply because there is a lack of tourist-filled gondolas and sightseeing boats that would normally stir up sediment and make the water look cloudy.

Now, the sediment has been allowed to settle.

Reports of dolphins swimming in the canals turned out to be bogus, according to National Geographic.

But there have been jellyfish easily visible. And residents are rejoicing at the beautiful sight of clear canal water.

Less greenhouse gases

The chief greenhouse gas in the United States is carbon dioxide, which is widely dispersed in the atmosphere and can come from anywhere. Philadelphia does not monitor CO2 levels in its network, so there’s no way to get a solid number on local levels.

However, the federal Energy Information Administration is forecasting that nationwide, “energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will decrease by 7.5% in 2020 as the result of the slowing economy and restrictions on business and travel activity related to COVID-19.”

And even for 2021, the agency is forecasting that CO2 might only bounce back by 3.6%.

But any lasting effect of the current economic slump on long-term changes in climate will be too small to notice.

» READ MORE: Jackals have taken over this Tel Aviv park since the city went into coronavirus lockdown