Gondolas. Fish. Finely crafted bridges. Otherworldly architecture. Rusted out shopping carts? In Venice, tourists have a lot to answer for. But as COVID 19 sweeps the world and people stop travelling – especially to Coronavirus hotspots like Italy; one of the first countries after China to see an exponential rise in cases – there has been a silver lining for tourist destinations like Venice, whose usual state of oversaturation normally keeps its waterways looking scummy.
As CNN reported yesterday, with the lockdown in full effect, “locals in Venice have noticed that the water in the city’s canals has become much clearer, with small fish visible swimming around.” This shimmering lining apparently came to light after “several people… uploaded photos to a Facebook group called Venezia Pulita (Clean Venice), attracting comments from other users.”
“Nature resumes it’s life….how beautiful,” wrote one, while another commented, “Marvelous there are even fish that we have the opportunity to see.” Others saw it as a silver lining to the pandemic: “What a marvel this Venice was; this virus brought something….beautiful.”
Twitter users made similar observations, claiming it’s the first time it’s been (visibly) clean in 60 years, attracting everything from fish…
good news: due to a dramatic decrease in pollution caused by the quarantine, the water in the venice canals is currently clean for the first time in 60 years!! pic.twitter.com/rYBQS3jSzx
— dorochu (@yagefudo) March 17, 2020
… to ducks…
Boars in the middle of my hometown, dolphins in the port of Cagliari, ducks in the fountains in Rome, Venice canals have now clean water full of fishes. Air pollution dropped. Nature is reclaiming its spaces during quarantine in Italy. #COVID19 #COVIDー19 pic.twitter.com/dr6QILfF9V
— Francesco Delrio (@Cosodelirante) March 15, 2020
However, while it may look pretty, the Venice mayor’s office told CNN the change is not actually due to improved water quality.
“The water now looks clearer because there is less traffic on the canals, allowing the sediment to stay at the bottom,” a spokesman said. “It’s because there is less boat traffic that usually brings sediment to the top of the water’s surface.”
In other words, it looks prettier, and there are no boats to scare the Dolphins etc away, but the actual water quality would need much longer than this to improve.
In any case, while water pollution may not have decreased, air quality has, according to the spokesman, who told CNN, “The air, however, is less polluted since there are less vaporetti and boat traffic than usual because of the restricted movement of residents.”
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This comes in a context where, before the Coronavirus pandemic, Venice has faced a bunch of problems including flooding, unsustainable over-tourism, the sinking of historical buildings into the water and a dwindling population.