Feelgood factor stories about dolphins videoed frolicking in Venice’s canals might now have been debunked as misplaced geographically – or wishful thinking. However, “fake news” aside, the reality – if there is one positive consequence of the otherwise tragic and devastating coronavirus pandemic – is that nature has had an unexpected opportunity to renew itself. Concerns about climate change and pollution remain, but at least there has been some temporal respite for wildlife.
In a news item titled “Marine Life Returns to Milan Canals as Coronavirus Shuts Down Tourism”, Yahoo noted that “some residents are taking a little solace in the positive effect the lockdown is having on the environment, including the return of fish and waterfowl to Milan”.
Giovanni Contrada was reported to have been out walking in Milan (on 17 March) when he recorded footage of clear water running through the Naviglio Grande canal (pictured here before the coronavirus outbreak). “Look at all the fish that have come back. How amazing is this,” he said, before panning his camera to show two ducks swimming by.
Yahoo said Contrada was not the only one noticing the return of wildlife to Italy’s waters, “with people spotting a dolphin in Cagliari, ducks in a fountain in Rome, and swans and fish in Venice”. But not dolphins in Venice…
A more academic tone was adopted by Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, a senior lecturer in tourism management, in an article for The Conversation published in March and titled, “The end of global travel as we know it: an opportunity for sustainable tourism”.
“The COVID-19 crisis has the global travel industry… in uncharted territory,” she wrote. “Nations are shutting their borders. Airlines face bankruptcy. Ports are refusing entry to cruise ships, threatening the very basis of the cruise business model. Associated hospitality, arts and cultural industries are threatened. Major events are being cancelled. Tourist seasons in many tourist destinations are collapsing. Vulnerable workers on casual, seasonal or gig contracts are suffering. It seems an epic disaster. But is it?”
As human activities would need to change for the world to avoid the worst effects of human-induced climate change, she noted, “the coronavirus crisis might offer us an unexpected opportunity.
“Crisis invites creativity. Grounded business travellers are realising virtual business meetings work satisfactorily. Conferences are reorganising for virtual sessions. Arts and cultural events and institutions are turning to live streaming to connect with audiences.
“In Italian cities under lockdown, residents have come out on their balconies to create music as a community. Local cafes and food co-ops, including my local, are reaching out with support for the community’s marginalised and elderly to ensure they are not forgotten.”
For Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, the public health crisis serves to remind us that our well-being depends on being part of a community, not on being consumers. “After this crisis passes… we might learn that not travelling long distances didn’t stop us travelling; it just enlivened us to the richness of local travel.”
If you are looking for environmentally-friendly “local” (as in European) travel when the coronavirus crisis has ended, Milan has some stunning natural areas for tourists to explore. Check our guide here.