Examining the Wide-Ranging Impact of COVID on Nature and Tourism Around the World

Several assessments of the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on the environment and tourism have been published so far, detailing the effects on air quality, disposable products and ecotourism.

Photo: Unsplash
Photo: Unsplash

The past few years have been terrible on the environment, with a previous post on MedForest explaining how Europe saw the highest record of forest fires in 2019, with over 400,000 hectares of natural land and protected areas falling victim to said calamity.

This year, with the pandemic causing the world to come to a standstill, it would be easy for some to think that the environment is finally getting the break it so desperately needs. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. In reality, current circumstances have spelt wide-ranging impacts not just on nature but on the industries that rely on its preservation, such as ecotourism.

That said, the effects of the ongoing global health crisis on the environment aren’t all bad. As per a study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, the positive effects can include the decreased concentration of NO2 and PM 2.5 in the air, cleaner beaches and reduced environmental noise pollution. While these things are nothing short of good news, the detrimental effects of the pandemic could easily quash them.

According to a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the public health crisis is expected to trigger an estimated global use of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves every month. Less than a year into the pandemic, multiple environmental organisations are already seeing how such PPEs are finding their ways into the oceans and the beaches.

What’s even more troubling is the fact that the material made to produce gloves and masks can be easily mistaken by marine animals as life forms like jellyfish, which some animals eat. In addition to this, the elastic component of pandemic-related waste can also increase the risk of entanglement for a large variety of fish, animals and birds.

Aside from posing a serious threat to marine life, these devastating environmental impacts are also expected to gravely affect countries that heavily rely on ecotourism. A great example of such a country is the Philippines. With the pandemic causing travel bans all throughout the globe, the Philippines and its thriving ecotourism industry are expected to lose at least PHP 42.9 billion or EUR 74 million in revenue — and that’s only for February to April 2020.

In this case, the environmental repercussions of the virus can easily translate to socioeconomic problems. In the perspective of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), for the country to successfully combat the economic and public health effects of the ongoing crisis, the restoration of Philippine rainforests and mangrove forests should be at the core of the state’s risk reduction plans. The ACB further explained that these nature-based solutions will not only cushion the country from the impacts of climate change but also assist the country’s transition to ecotourism.

A lot of experts all over the globe share the same view as the ACB. According to experts from Argentina, since ‘rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species’ creates the ‘perfect storm’ for the transfer of diseases from wildlife to people, it grows even more important for countries to focus on protecting the environment to prevent the onslaught of pandemics in the coming years. It would also be a good idea for states to zoom in on sustainability however they can — starting with tourism.

Since ecotourism not only helps conserve nature but also protect endangered species and the communities that safeguard them, the UN Environment Programme hopes that this field will also receive economic benefits from their respective governments.

VIAJenna Beaton
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EFIMED is the Mediterranean Facility of the European Forest Institute. Based in Barcelona, Spain, it was launched in 2007.