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How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected conservation efforts and what follow on effects are expected in the economic recession following it?
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The lock downs due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in cleaner air and water, and wildlife reclaiming contested habitats. In protected areas, declines in visitor numbers caused by travel restrictions and park closures reduced stresses on sensitive animals.

Essential conservation work continued - national parks and protected areas were patrolled and vulnerable wildlife guarded - in many places but not all. In the Masai Mara and Serengeti in Africa, nature reserves took less tourist revenue, and struggled to pay rangers. Indonesian trade ministry revoked rules requiring certification that wood exports were legally produced. In Brazil, state protection weakened for the Amazon rain forest and its people. Fewer law enforcement officials going out into the field and monitoring missions scaled back opened the door for more forest clearance. Indigenous groups – who were the forest’s main defenders – began retreating into isolation to avoid the disease. The pandemic had strengthened the hand of criminals.

University laboratories and research facilities shut down. Field sites were no longer accessible because of travel and entry restrictions and safety concerns. Field research and lab-based experiments stopped. This meant missed opportunities to identify conservation priorities, and monitor the health of endangered species and ecosystems.

Conservation research is unlikely to be a government priority during the post-pandemic economic recovery. Economic recession will reduce funds available for conservation, potentially reducing funding for research grants and conservation programs. Conservation groups fear this will open the door to more illegal poaching, mining and logging, especially now that local people are losing income and need new ways to feed their families. On the other hand, a global economic downturn will probably suppress demand for meat, timber, minerals, soy and other Amazon produce, which could ease pressure on the forest.

Conservation being an applied science, students missing the practical, hands-on experiences gained through labs and field courses, may affect the training and career development of future conservation professionals.

A lot of conservation research involves data collection by citizen scientists and may receive increased attention, for example, backyard bird counts.

If people's appreciation for clean air and water grows, and they notice pollution when it reappears, this would provide an opportunity to push for stronger clean air and water regulations and better enforcement of existing regulations.

 

References

Carrington D, “Polluter Bailouts and Lobbying during Covid-19 Pandemic” (The Guardian, April 2020)

Corlett RT and others, “Impacts of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Biodiversity Conservation” [2020] Biological Conservation

Watts J, “Brazil: Coronavirus Fears Weaken Amazon Protection Ahead of Fire Season” (The Guardian, April 2020)

Watts J, “Climate Crisis: In Coronavirus Lockdown, Nature Bounces Back – but for How Long?” (The Guardian, April 2020)

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