Ship movements across the world’s oceans fell in the first half of 2020 with the entry into force of Covid-19 restrictions, according to a new study.
The researchers used a satellite-based ship tracking system to compare ship and boat traffic from January to June 2020 with the same period in 2019.
The study, led by the University of Exeter (UK) and involving the Balearic Islands Coastal Observation and Forecasting System and the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (both in Spain), found a decrease in movements in the waters off more than 70% of the countries.
Global declines peaked in April 2020, but in June – as Covid restrictions were relaxed in many countries – vessel movements began to increase.
“When the lockdowns went into effect, we heard stories and began to see the first research results that suggested that reduced boat movements had allowed some marine ecosystems to recover,” said lead author. , Dr David March, of the Center for Ecology and Conservation at the Penryn Campus in Exeter, Cornwall.
“There have been reports of clearer water in the canals of Venice, and a study has shown reduced underwater noise in Vancouver.”
Professor Brendan Godley, who heads the Exeter Marine research group, added: “The effects of ships and boats – from noise and pollution to fishing and collisions with animals – have a major impact on marine ecosystems. of the whole world.
“Our study aimed to measure the impact of Covid on this traffic, and we continue to monitor it as restrictions on human activity continue to evolve.
“The quantification of changes in human activities at sea paves the way for research into the impacts of Covid-19 on the blue economy and the health of the oceans.”
The study found:
- Decrease in vessel movements in exclusive economic zones (up to 200 nautical miles offshore) by 70.2% of the 124 countries included in the study.
- Countries with tighter Covid restrictions have seen steeper declines in vessel movements.
- Global declines peaked in April, with declines observed in all categories of vessels (i.e. freighters, tankers, fishing, service, pleasure and passenger vessels)
- The largest and longest lasting reductions were in passenger ships, while oil tankers, freighters and fishing vessels were the least affected.
- A more detailed analysis of the western Mediterranean (covering January to November 2020) showed that reductions in vessel movements peaked at 62.2% by mid-April, one of the areas where the reduction was greatest. higher. This included a 93.7 percent reduction in pleasure craft movements.
“The long-term trend is for increased ship movements around the world, so a slight decrease may represent a more significant reduction from the volume of traffic that we would otherwise have seen,” concluded Dr March.
Near real-time vessel traffic data was provided by exactEarth and Marine Traffic.
Funding for the study came from a Marie Sk? Odowska-Curie within the framework of the Horizon 2020 program of the European Union, the Natural Environment Research Council, the Waterloo Foundation and the Darwin Initiative.
The paper, published in the journal Nature communications, is titled: “Tracking the Overall Reduction in Marine Traffic During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
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