Impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on marine life

Image: Vivek Kumar | Unsplash

A reduction in shipping is having a positive effect on aquatic mammals. However, an increase in plastic waste and fewer volunteers collecting data is having the opposite effect

The report from Ocean Wise, COVID-19: A Story of Marine Mammals, examined three main impacts: a reduction in ships; increase in plastic pollution and a drop-off in citizen science and rescue.

With fewer ships at sea because of the economic shutdown, the report found that some marine mammals such as humpback whales, orcas and sea lions may be having an easier time finding food and navigating because of a reduction in noise.

Container ships in port
Container ships in port | Image: Andy Li on Unsplash

The report looks at ways to permanently reduce underwater noise, such as possible legislation.

There could be vehicle slowdowns, or direct traffic away from critical habitats for certain marine mammals

Amber Dearden, research assistant with Ocean Wise

However, whilst cetaceans may be getting a break from noise, the report says there has also been an increase in single-use plastics, or Covid waste.

The health crisis has seen a shift back toward the use of single-use plastics, including shopping bags, takeaway containers and cups, as well as the widespread use of disposable masks and gloves.

PPE masks floating in the sea
PPE masks floating in the sea | Image: Opération Mer Propre

“Once plastic enters the marine environment, it becomes considerably more difficult to recover,” the report states.

Instead of biodegrading, plastics break down into smaller and smaller fragments until they become micro-plastics. Those are mistaken for food by marine animals, which can result in malnutrition, starvation or even death, according to the report.

PPE gloves floating in the sea
PPE gloves floating in the sea | Image: Opération Mer Propre

Finally, the report looks at how the shutdown impacted citizen science and rescue.

The pandemic lockdowns around the world prevented volunteers from: doing bird counts; responding to reports of entangled animals; restoring habitats; conducting beach cleans and monitoring marine species in order to gather data.

Humpback with gulls
Humpback | Image: Humberto Braojos on Unsplash

“What we do collectively, post-pandemic, remains to be seen, but we hope that people will choose to tread more lightly on our planet,” the report says.

Ocean Desk Make Waves (title graphic)

What can I do..?

The Ocean Wise report includes a list of things people can do to help, such as avoid contributing to marine traffic by reducing unnecessary consumption, as the majority of shipping is for the transport of goods.


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