While offices, markets and theatres remain shut across India due to the Covid-19-induced lockdown, nature is taking the downtime to create its own movie with HD video and Dolby Digital Sound.
Have you been basking under the brightest and biggest supermoon of 2020 in the night sky as a blessing in a world battling Covid-19? Or lately, waking up to the sound of gentle birdsong in the morning? Have you been catching glimpses of breathtaking sunsets from your window, even as you breathe cleaner air and wish upon a few stars – finally visible – at night? While the world has been brought to a state of inertia, Mother Nature has found an opportune time to reclaim its lost glory and teach us a lesson in healing. The worldwide lockdown due to Covid-19 has forced us to slow down, take stock and start thinking about our future. The most important lesson here being: if we stop abusing nature, it will return the favour with fresh air, clean water and a bounteous ecosystem, saving from the adverse effects of climate change.
Who would have thought that a cataclysmic pandemic, which has the entire world on its toes, could also bring with it some positive changes? From roommates getting to know each other better to appreciating the small things we take for granted on a daily basis – Indians across the country have found different ways to survive this health hazard, while staying at home and practicing social distancing. And this, in turn, has allowed Mother Earth the time to heal.
In the West, researchers in Canada and in America are being able to study whales in quieter oceans with shipping activity being stalled. In the Arctic, the largest hole in the ozone layer is closing up, though it is unclear if this correlates to the lockdown. And closer home, where we’re witnessing the world’s largest lockdown for the past 45 days or so, scientists are recording surprisingly low levels of harmful microscopic particulate matter at 2.5 and of nitrogen dioxide in the air, with transport, construction work and urban life as we know it suspended. Metro cities, too, are reporting ‘satisfactory’ Air Quality Index (AQI). In fact, air pollution has dropped by 45 per cent in Mumbai and Pune, and 50 per cent in Ahmedabad, System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) stated.
However, among the plethora of news articles around nature reclaiming earth during the lockdown, some are clear hoaxes. Old images and videos are being recirculated out of context to wax eloquent about this phenomenon. A video claiming the spotting of the endangered Malabar civet cat in Kozhikode, for example, was actually of a more common Indian civet. Or, take for example, Whatsapp forwards celebrating the spotting of dolphins from Malabar Hill in Mumbai – a common occurrence.
But Nikit Surve, a Mumbai-based wildlife researcher and regular visitor at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), helps us put things in perspective. “The lockdown has definitely had a positive impact on the environment, but not all of what we’re seeing is related directly to the lockdown. For example, pollution levels have dropped in metros across the country. With respect to wildlife, it’s a little different for animals, now. I haven’t been visiting SGNP, but I get regular updates from there. What’s happening is that a lot wildlife, which includes monkeys, deer and leopards, are now being sighted roaming free in areas where they wouldn’t be seen earlier. That is not to say that they have magically appeared, they were always there. It’s just that they were not active because people were always around,” Surve shares.
What Surve is trying to say is that, the Indian Paradise Flycatcher bird that perches on the neem tree outside your kitchen window at 8 am each morning, was in all probability always there. You, perhaps – now that you’re within the confines of your house soldiering on with that work-from-home schedule – are only noticing it now .
Elaborating on this, Manini Bansal, managing editor and art director, Current Conservation, a Bangalore-based conservation-focused magazine, says, “We know that there are some obvious impacts of the lockdown, which are true, like air and water quality improving, to some extent. But I have come across so many myths like ‘Dolphins spotted in Mumbai for the first time’ or ‘Mass nesting of Olive Ridleys in Odisha due to lockdown.’ When, dolphins are seen quite often in Mumbai and mass nesting happens almost every year in Odisha. Thing is, wildlife has always been in our backyards, we just haven’t been noticing it.”
Adding to this, Surve says, “I have realised that my house gets sunlight for 1.5 hours everyday only. Now that I am stuck at home, I leave everything and make sure I am basking in it while it lasts. That goes to show how much we take everything around us for granted, including a seemingly simple thing like sunlight.”
So, yes, the lockdown has directly helped the environment heal, in that pollution levels have dropped, making the air more pristine, beaches and roads cleaner, skies brighter, to an extent. And indirectly, it has just taught us to slow down, appreciate the finer things in life and value nature like we haven’t in a while.
The results? See it for yourself.
Admiring nature during these trying times has gained traction among celebs, too. Recently, Bollywood's king, Shahrukh Khan's daughter Suhana Khan had shared a now unavailable story on her Instagram of her sunbathing in the balcony of their plush bungalow, Mannat, on Bandstand. Khan was among one of many netizens sharing unrivaled images of sunsets during the lockdown.
#WindowBirding as a hashtag has been gaining traction on social media platforms with more expert and novice birdwatchers using their free time to pay attention to the avian beauties that alight on or close to their windowsills.
A young birder captures the Yellow Footed Green Pigeon from his terrace
Mumbai’s popular beaches at Girgaum and Juhu Chowpatty known for being perennially overcrowded and covered in litter now, look untouched.
Each year, flamingoes flock to the wetlands of Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). This year, the pink beauties flocked in Navi Mumbai in large numbers. In the first week of April, the Bombay Natural History Society estimated the count of flamingoes at 1.5 lakh.
A Twitter user spotted a peacock dancing inside the Parsi Colony in Hughes Road in Mumbai.
Another Twitter user claimed to have spotted Dhauladhar mountain range from Jalandhar, Punjab, adding that it was visible after 30 years, with pollution levels having dropped. In fact, the great peaks of the snow-capped Himalaya were not just sighted in Punjab, but users from Saharanpur and Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh and Sitamarhi in Bihar, too, made similar claims!