Course:CONS200/2021/The COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for biodiversity conservation

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The Origin of the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)

COVID-19 originated from a Korean Businessman that flew from Bahrain in May 2015, which is a country from The Middle East[1]. The individual flew from this country to Seoul, which is the capital of South Korea. He contracted a cough and a fever, that had stemmed from The Middle East in Bahrain, and later contracted pneumonia. Before becoming a patient to a registered health facility, he had been in contact with 3 facilities in order to retrieve a diagnosis. This resulted in a dramatic "chain" of contractible evidence of where this person had visited. Before being diagnosed with COVID-19 in which individuals had grown to learn across the globe. However, it was then labeled as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (+MERS) as the origination was unknown by this traveler's whereabouts. The first record of COVID-19 was reported by China on December 31st, 2019 as it was the first widespread acknowledgment of the astronomical decimation of a people that would evidently affect the rest of the world population.

The cause and effect of contactable transmission, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in early March of 2020[2]. The pandemic proceeded to majorly disrupt the functioning of a highly globalized world. In attempts to control the outbreak, governments around the globe issued stay-at-home orders that varied in severity. Many island nations completely shut down any air travel, some countries instituted curfews, and many set in motion work from home orders, which substantially altered the urban environment as well as the lives of citizens on a global level. As the world instituted lockdowns and discouraged travel, there was a significant and varied effect on the field of conservation across local, regional, and global scales. There were convoluted effects on biodiversity and wilderness conservation efforts, with some conservation areas experiencing higher levels of use as citizens were encouraged to stay in local areas, while simultaneously others experienced increased habitat destruction. Single use plastic became a mode of protection in public spaces, and thus COVID-19 had an impact on global pollution. Additionally, the economics of conservation were altered, as wildlife management was subject to budget cuts, polarizing politics, and a loss of skilled personnel in the field. Finally, COVID-19 has taught hard-learned lessons for the field of conservation, but the rapid global response is evidence that when it matters, the world can work together for its preservation, and prioritize global health over the economy.

Effects on Biodiversity and Conservation

Destruction of Habitats

A study by Gibbons and Sandbrook (2021) explored the impacts of COVID -19 on biodiversity and specifically looked at themes such as habitat destruction. Tropical forest deforestation has increased by more than 50% in areas of the Americas, Asia and Asia-Pacific solely during the first month where policies enforcing lockdown were implemented[3]. In their study, it has been shown that there has been a negative impact on multiple sub-themes of habitat destruction: illegal harvesting of wild animals, persecution of species and persecution of disease vectors[3]. Impacts on different sections of habitat destruction were found to be caused by COVID-19 policies rather than a direct impact of the virus[3]. Reasons as to why habitat destruction increased during this global pandemic are likely due to an increase in poverty and a decrease in tourism[3]. An increase in poverty would lead to individuals to seek out unsustainable resource extractions to sustain their livelihoods[3]. For example, forest fires in Colombia have increased during lockdown, leading to an increase in habitat destruction[3]. It is the policies created to combat the pandemic, such as the implementations of lockdown-coupled with an increase in poverty-that have lead to a decrease in the enforcement of protected and thus an increase in habitat destruction[3].

Plastic Wastes and Understanding it's Pollution

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a massive increase in single use plastics due to the demand for medical equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE)[4]. It is suggested that eight million tonnes of plastic related to the pandemic has been generated globally with over 25,000 tonnes of this plastic ending up in the ocean[4].  With the treatment of plastic waste unable to keep up with this increased usage, major effects on wildlife have been noted[5]. This increase in plastic waste is one of the most relevant pollution problems in the world with marine animal entanglement, ingestion, and suffocation resulting[5]. With little to no green solutions for PPE, nearly everyone on the planet having a surging need, and no infrastructure in place to handle this overload, plastics and pollution are ending up on coasts, in the ocean, and having a major impact on marine biodiversity. Although reduced human activities during the COVID-19 lockdown did have some positive effects such as an increase in wild fishery stocks, improved water quality and biodiversity, the increase in plastic and biochemical waste overshadowed these positive benefits with the increase in aquatic pollution through microplastics and plastic waste[6].

Impacts on the Sub-Saharan Wild Meat Trade

The underlining consequences of the world-wide concern with the pathogen called COVID-19 was not just a socio-cultured pandemic, but an economic tragedy. The wild meat trade industry in Sub-Saharan Africa has been affected which lead to a shift in culture and economic strain, to a much more complex perspective on policy-making.

During the Ebola outbreak during 2013-2016 the wild meat trade had been banned due to the aimed reduction of spreading the disease. While adding to this, the meat was inedible due to the public health warning to not eat wild meat for this very same reason. The wild meat industry in Central and Western Africa itself had been banned which was to encourage the trade to halt from eating any sort of potential contamination amongst living animals who may had been in contact with Ebola. However, the "zoonotic disease" had further led the industry to entirely become an unregulated experience where people who relied on this craft still continued to hunt and trade as it was their way of living [7]. Telling the plains folk or common folk to not have a primary source of food and resource for their people, was simply not enough to stop the wildlife trade[8].

The trade industry in consideration to the above formulates a strong indication that the relationship between humans and the relationship of animal trade formulated new policy responses[7]. The macroeconomic shock laws groundwork for the meat trade and wildlife by exploring these potential impacts within not just Central and West Africa, but all across the globe. Whether pandemic or the general health of under the wildlife and trade industry, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) oversees the concern and regulations of endangered species. They study the relationship between international trade and legal protection for world conservation[9].

Increased traffic to Conservation Areas
Citizens flocked to National Parks in Canada and The United States during the Coronavirus Pandemic. This put stress on the parks and staff, and some worried that it made protected areas hotspots for transmission.

Many flocked to public parks after government shutdowns. Outdoor parks offered residents a safe, low-cost activity while many were weary of air travel, and many indoor spaces were closed. In the state of New Jersey for instance, National and State parks saw a 63.4% increase during the onset of the pandemic compared to the year prior[10]. Mobile homes, RVs, and trailers experienced an unprecedented wave of interest[11]. The correlated influx to parks presented a heap of challenges for conservation authorities as groves of people flocked to the 'natural' that was close to home. Many parks dealt with increased litter and vandalism, as well as deteriorating trails in sensitive ecosystems[12].

Additionally, the increased traffic to parks created tension for Indigenous peoples that lived close to a variety of parks. The Blackfeet nation, whose reserve is outside of Glacier National Park in Montana, closed the area to outside visitors, which effectively closed one of two entrances to Americas third most visited park[12]. A variety of indigenous nations that bordered the Grand Canyon experienced unwanted tourist traffic after officially closing their communities[13], and a large number of communities in British Columbia officially closed their borders to outside visitors[14]. The sovereignty to do so is an encouraging marker in indigenous reconciliation in North America, however the disregard for these closed places and peoples is a continuation of settler-colonial attitudes and practices that is one of the darkest aspects of the pandemic, and indeed conservation.

Tourism and Economic Implications

Polarizing Politics

During the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism experienced an 80% decline and a loss of more than a trillion dollars in 2020 [15]. Tourism has a direct link to biodiversity. Tourism impacts biodiversity in numerous ways: by increasing habitat destruction, pollution, and furthering impacts of climate change which all contribute to biodiversity loss [16]. However, when looking at tourism in an anthropogenic lens, it does benefit biodiversity[16]. Biodiversity continues to aid the continued growth of tourism, and due to its contribution to the economy, there is justification to preserve biodiversity[16]. Without biodiversity, tourism fails. In an anthropogenic view, the flow of money that originates from ecotourism of national parks provides an economic incentive to keep national parks and reserves in place[16].

Currently, there are two opposing views on how tourism should be invested in. Past pandemics and disease outbreaks have required us to change our ways and implement new policies going forward[15]. With the emergence of the pandemic and its negative impacts on tourism, there is debate and disagreement on the policies regarding the tourism sector. There are two main views on how we should proceed forward. The first view is called the pro-industry booster, and supporters of this view argue that tourism should go back to 'business as usual'[15].The pro-industry booster view argues that the income and development is too valuable to disregard, and tourism is crucial to support economic growth[15]. On the other hand is the pro-limit critic approach, which emphasizes responsible and sustainable tourism that is achieved through de-growth [15]. Responsible tourism is the idea that we need to recognize the negative impacts caused by tourism [15]Supporters of this approach argue that tourism as it is in its current state supports capitalist growth and has negative impacts towards environment, promotes ecological damage, and only benefits people of higher socio-economic status. [15].

The pandemic has opened the doors for change within the tourism sector. The question remains: in which direction will we go?

Influence of Tourism Loss on the Conservation Sector

During Covid-19 lockdowns where-at its peak-more than half of the world was under lockdown[17] and 100% of countries restricted tourism in some capacity[18], conservation that is dependent on tourism for revenue was adversely affected. This was particularly the case in the global south, and studies thus far have focussed on Africa. In Masai Mara national park and Hell’s Gate national park in Kenya, nighttime light intensity has reduced by 23% compared to previous years[19], suggesting a serious decrease in economic activity and thus conservation efforts. In Africa more widely, already underfunded parks that were dependent upon tourism can now barely afford to keep basic operations running. In the worst cases, conservation authorities from 10 African countries stated that if restrictions continued, they could only afford to continue bare-bone operations for another 3 months[20]. The loss of revenue from the lack of tourism has meant that many parks are struggling to pay for labor[20]. Additionally, COVID-19 has “undermined many development projects that were supported by income from tourism and weakened collaboration with investors"[20]. Parks in rural or hard to access areas were the hardest hit, as conservation played a multifaceted and pivotal role for local communities. Conservation efforts mitigated conflict between wildlife and villages, and offered unique employment opportunities[20]. Without tourism, officials fear that remote tourist facilities may deteriorate without use-a costly worry that may strain relations with those that fund the parks[20]. Also, “loss of livelihood may force some communities to turn to wildlife consumption if other survival options dry up”[20], and some may turn to alternative income generation such as deforestation, a result of the virus that has already been witnessed in South America and Asia[21].

The loss of income that the field of conservation has experienced because of COVID-19 has made protection of places and animals precarious. 40 rangers of the Mara Naboisho conservancy have lost their jobs after the COVID-19 outbreak[22]. Further, in some cases, governments are granting lockdown or paid leave to management authorities, but leaving patrols on the ground. This has caused patrols to become unorganized and ineffective, particularly in relation to anti-poaching efforts[22]. Overall, COVID-19 has borne a feedback loop that creates some serious problems for conservation moving forward. Lost income from tourism will not be regained post pandemic as government funds will be focussed elsewhere during recovery[23]. Strained relationships with financial partners makes other funding difficult. Additionally, jobs that were lost originally from decreased tourism will not be easy to recover as it is a serious expense to retrain and rehire those that left the field[22].  A key takeaway from the effects of COVID-19 on conservation is how unprepared the discipline was for the economic downturn caused by this pandemic[20]. It is clear that effective, long-lived conservation needs greater stability of funds in case of severe economic downturns.

Economic Recovery

As COVID-19 continues to be a strain on the economy, much of the economic recovery will take away from working to conserve the environment [3]. Globally, trillions of dollars have been redirected towards pandemic recovery, leaving conservation efforts to be excluded[3]. The reallocation of money to other sectors of the economy, along with a greater investment toward resource extractions and greenhouse gases emission intensive industries will take away from conservation and escalate the biodiversity crisis[3] Reprioritization of money has also been directed towards healthcare, and governments will continue to be spent on healthcare in the near future[3]. With limited resources, limited funding, and the allocation of resources, efforts and funding to conserve will be pushed to the side.

The Ethical perspectives and World Views Influenced by Covid-19

The Change in Social Responsibility

The variable disparity shows figures that encourage people to bring upon the awareness of the afflicted because of the misbehavior through lack of vaccinations. A bioethicist named Yolonda Wilson from the National Humanities Center indicates that the vocabulary about the Pandemic within America is found to be variable, but aims to change for the better. In the early stages of the pandemic where events and individual scarcity of safety were amidst, what was once a public health issue evidently became an irresponsible yet immoral one. The Bioethicist from the National Humanities Center Yolonda Wilson states, "The language of the crisis was replaced by the language of personal responsibility"[24]. In other words, resources were once a worry, but the primary concern is whether or not if individuals would decide the systematic and widespread occurrence of misinformation such as Covid-19 originating from China, Wuhan. As this Wikipedia addresses that this is indeed a racialized concern, where the pathogen, indeed, did not come or originate from China.

In consideration to the effects of combating a pandemic comes at not just a world-wide concern of social capital. It also provides an informative influx of location where people who fall sick with COVID-19 due to effective tracing, testing, and resources that are primarily a human right [25]. While privacy and data protection may be a concern, it can also enact a racialization to those who are most affected. When contact tracing, places of work, surnames, and nationality, home address, and the hospital that the fallen ill is staying at is primarily for statistic purposes. However this also provides a statistic analysis for racialization to occur where the higher outcome leads to oppressive discrimination. Pandemics are a social disaster for when it comes to the harmful discussion of adaptation of government policies that are in regards to both the safety for the overall globe, along with the restrictions and freedom of movement. However, these restrictions still prove to be a large component of discriminatory concern for people of colour across the globe.

Increased Human/Nature Conflict During COVID-19

COVID-19 has had both positive and negative consequences on biodiversity and climate change, however many of its impacts are related to the relationship between humans and nature. The pandemic has caused increased destruction and exploitation of natural resources[26]. Due to changes in the economy, and in particular the loss of jobs, poverty rates have increased, especially in vulnerable communities[26]. Increases in poverty and job losses have led to loss of income and thus food insecurities[26]. Therefore, people have become more reliant on natural resources and unsustainable practices to make a living and survive [26]. Overexploitation of resources have caused deforestation to increase of 34% in the Brazilian Amazon [26]. The pandemic has imposed numerous costs on many organizations and different levels of government [26]. Many protected areas rely on tourism for funding and as tourism revenues decrease, many rangers in protected areas have lost their jobs [26]. For example, the Mara Nabisco Conservancy in Kenya, had to let go of rangers and as a result saw a reduction in supervision and management [26].

Implications for Future Conservation Work

The pandemic has illustrated the kinds of impacts it has on conservation and biodiversity. It is important to acknowledge the positive impacts the pandemic has had on climate change. Some of the positive impacts the pandemic had on the environment include reduction in air pollution, reduced impacts on marine ecosystems, reduced exploitation of resources by poachers [26], and increased interest of the general population to be in nature [27].

During the pandemic, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the atmosphere has globally decreased due to the shutdown of industries and transportation systems, thus air quality has improved [26] . Moreover, due to limitations of movement-especially laws forbidding vehicle movements-there has been less movement across protected areas, limiting poachers from entering and killing animals [26]. Conservation in some protected areas have improved due a decrease in movement and human pressure [26]. Additionally, people have shown more interest in engaging in nature especially after lockdown [27]. More people have been going to beaches and public nature areas, along with a higher demand to purchase fishing licenses [27].

The positive and negative impacts discussed have allowed conservationists to arrive at multiple conclusions regarding the future of conservation work. Firstly, lack of regulation enforcement have resulted in increases in deforestation rates [27]. Whenever there is a crisis, whether it be a natural disaster or a pandemic, usually enforcements of conservation regulations are lessened, and efforts are focused onto other types of regulations [27]. Therefore, going forward, action plans must be put in place to counteract governments relaxing regulations in times of disasters or emergencies [27]. Secondly, there is a need for public support when it comes to conservation [27]. Society's role in conservation, and maintaining ecological practices is crucial, and a strong social support is critical for moving forward with conservation policies [27]. Regarding bridging together nature and humans, governments should place programs which allow for that connectivity to occur [27]. The more interest and engagement people experience with nature, the more social support environmental policies will gain[27], and can thus influence governments to act.

The pandemic has shown and taught us the kind of influence we have on conservation and biodiversity, and it is our responsibility to understand how to move forward in order make a positive impact.


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  11. Pualson, Joanna (January 12, 2021). "Paulson: Mobile home interest jumps in COVID era, while local sales do not". Saskatoon Star Phoenix.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Chow, Andrew R. (July 22, 2020). "National Parks Are Getting Trashed During COVID-19, Endangering Surrounding Communities". Time.
  13. Mineo, Liz (May 8, 2020). "For Native Americans, COVID-19 is 'the worst of both worlds at the same time'".
  14. Little, Simon (April 8, 2020). "82 First Nations on lockdown as B.C. records first COVID-19 cases in Indigenous communities". Global News.
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  19. Anand, Anupam; Kim, Do-Hyung (January 18, 2021). "Pandemic Induced Changes in Economic Activity around African Protected Areas Captured through Night-Time Light Data". Remote Sensing. 13(2): 1–15.
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  21. "IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS ON NATURE". Conservation International.
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  23. Gibbons, D. W., Sandbrook, C., Sutherland, W. J., Akter, R., Bradbury, R., Broad, S., Clements, A., Crick, H. Q. P., Elliott, J., Gyeltshen, N., Heath, M., Hughes, J., Jenkins, R. K. B., Jones, A. H., Lopez de la Lama, Rocio, Macfarlane, N. B. W., Maunder, M., Prasad, R., Romero‐Muñoz, A., . . . Ockendon, N. (2021). The relative importance of COVID‐19 pandemic impacts on biodiversity conservation globally. Conservation Biology,
  24. What Is Coronavirus? | Johns Hopkins Medicine
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Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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