Taking advantage of empty beaches, lower boat traffic and decreased pollution, many marine animals have ventured nearer to shore amid the COVID-19 outbreak. From endangered shark sightings to higher counts of sea-turtle nests, thriving marine life has offered a silver lining for this unprecedented pandemic.
Endangered Species Spotted in Miami
South Florida resident Jhordy Hiriart filmed an endangered manta ray swimming and feeding in a canal near his home in the Three Islands area of Hallandale Beach, Miami, Florida. Mantas are usually spotted in more tropical waters, but they have been known to venture into Sunshine State waters on occasion. But a sighting so close to shore has a could possibly be linked to fewer humans and boats in the water during coronavirus lockdowns and beach closures.
Miami Waterkeeper has also been recording marine life in the area. Using the #MiamiMarineLife and #SeeAFishSendAFish hashtags, Miami Waterkeeper is encouraging the public to report any sightings. Increased observations of dolphins, manatees and turtles have been made, and one local even reported two endangered smalltooth sawfish.
Local Scott Zeigler spotted the pair of sawfish by a seawall near Margaret Pace Park. Researchers believe this is the first-ever video footage of the endangered species making an appearance in Biscayne Bay.
Turtle Nesting in Florida and Thailand
Beaches around the world are seeing an increase in turtle nesting numbers.
In Thailand, researchers have recorded 11 leatherback nests — the largest number in two decades.
“This is a very good sign for us because many areas for spawning have been destroyed by humans,” Kongkiat Kittiwatanawong, the director of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, told The Guardian. “If we compare to the year before, we didn’t have this many spawn, because turtles have a high risk of getting killed by fishing gear and humans disturbing the beach.”
Scientists in Florida have seen a similar upswing in nesting numbers.
The Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Florida, said in a Facebook post that they recorded 76 leatherback nests and three loggerhead turtle nests along the 9.5-mile stretch of beach they monitor.
According to a blog post from 2019, the center had recorded just 41 nests by the same time last year.
"We’re excited to see our turtles thrive in this environment," Sarah Hirsch, the senior manager of research and data at the center, tells Florida’s CBS12 News. "Our world has changed, but these turtles have been doing this for millions of years and it’s just reassuring and gives us hope that the world is still going on."
Clear Water in the Venice Canals
Satellite photos taken by the European Space Agency show a distinct lack of boat traffic and bluer waters in the iconic Venice canals.
Since Italy’s nationwide lockdown started on March 9, all cruise ships, vaporetti waterbuses and other vessels have been forced to dock, allowing sediment to settle at the bottom of the canals, clearing the water and allowing marine life free reign of the waterways.
Original claims of dolphins and swans returning to the canals have been debunked, but other animals have been observed since. Local biologist Andrea Mangoni recently recorded a jellyfish pulsing through one of the canals near the city’s San Marco Square.
Fin Whales in the Mediterranean
Off the coast of Southern France, fin whales have been spotted unusually close to shore.
A maritime patrol boat filmed a pair of fin whales off the Calanques National Park, which is located next to the port city of Marseille. The city, usually bustling with boat and shipping traffic, is currently locked down, which experts say gives marine life a chance to explore their local waters.
“The absence of human activity means the whales are far more serene, calm and confident about rediscovering their playground that they abandon when there is maritime traffic,” Didier Reault, who heads the park board, told The Associated Press. “It is clear that the lockdown of humans is helping nature and biodiversity rediscover their natural spaces.”