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Impact of the Pandemic on Marine Conservation

Image by © Martina

When the pandemic fell upon us, there was increased awareness of negative implications on nature and the environment caused by us humans. Everyone was discussing how nature is fighting back and if we do not respect and protect nature, we as human race will be facing many more issues like the Covid 19 pandemic in the near future.

Initially as everyone was stuck at home, the environment seemed to be healing. This was assumed due to reduced vehicular pollution and the closing down of factories and industries that emit harmful greenhouse gases. Even for the oceans, things seemed to be changing for the better with the stopping of ship traffic. However, with time, for the oceans a different situation has risen, wherein the pandemic has worsened the situation in many ways. Some of which include:

    1. Increased Plastic pollution
    2. Rising Illegal activities
    3. Research hindered

1. Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution was already an area of concern even before the pandemic was on us. Every year, 8 million tons (approximately the weight of 90 airplanes) of plastic is discarded into our oceans. 8 million tons can be evaluated to a garbage truck emptying its waste every minute into the ocean!!! It has been predicted that by 2050 the weight of plastic in the oceans will outweigh the number of fishes in the sea. So plastic polluting our oceans isn’t a new problem.

However, due to the pandemic, the usage of single use plastic, face masks and gloves increased tremendously. A shockingly number of 129 billion masks and 65 billion gloves were used every month globally. Due to improper disposal of these safety gears most of them ended up in the ocean. The masks when floating in water look very similar to jellyfish. This caused many marine animals like turtles to ingest these gloves thinking that they were eating jellyfish. Masks also were a problem as the elastic portion of the mark ended up getting entangled with birds, fish as well as land animals.

1 million birds and marine animals are estimated to die each year due to plastic in the oceans. The use of single use containers, cutlery due to the pandemic resulted in an increase of plastic use which ends up in our oceans, making the situation worse. Recycling of these types of plastic requires funds which is often not allocated for waste management and this waste ends up untreated and leaks into our oceans causing our marine life and oceans to suffer.

2. Illegal activities

With the stopping of all activities on land and sea, there issue of poorly policed oceans worsened. Coast guards and navies were focused on inland crisis rather than on sea and this resulted in the oceans being vulnerable to exploitation by pirates, poachers and smugglers. Illegal fishing for food and pet trade was much easier than before due to lack of any law enforcement on the water.

3. Research

Research plays an important role in understanding and documenting the underwater life. Fish and other sea creatures are constantly on the move migrating from one region to the other for better climate for spawning, birthing and for food.

Researchers are often at months on length on their boats following these species and obtaining important data for science. With the ban of ships due to the pandemic this important research has also halted. This pause in the research will cause a gap in the data collected by the researchers on important species for their conservation.

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