The halt to economic activity has allowed nature to recover in many ways but there is no reason to celebrate. The challenge remains the same: delivering an economically prosperous Balearic region in a healthy and sustainable natural environment.
At the time of writing this article I received a whatsapp message showing a seal basking in the ria of San Sebastian in Northern Spain. An unusual sight which adds to other messages received over these past days of confinement showing wild boars occupying the centre of Barcelona, a brown bear visiting a small village in Asturias, wolves strolling down a main street in Galicia and wild goats (Ibex), quite different to the ones we are accustomed here, wandering through the main square in a small town of Albacete.
Closer to home there have been several reports of dolphins getting near the shore in Majorca, and clear and transparent waters in areas that are usually highly disturbed and murky. If this visibility prevails we will see communities of marine flora growing in new areas creating new habitats for other species, a reminder of how nature can recover when it is given a chance. Air and noise pollution has also decreased dramatically and are at a historical low.
Photo: ASOCIACION TURSIOPS
But what other changes are going on under the water? The forced 'time-out" and the exceptional circumstances provide an opportunity for a once in a lifetime experiment. Since the confinement started there is not been one single day that I wonder about what changes we will see in the marine and coastal environment once we are allowed to go and look. Will recreational fishermen come back home with a full bucket on their first day of fishing after the imposed moratorium, will divers notice fish behaving differently on their first dive and will coastal hikers notice unusual things, maybe more birds’ nests in places which were previously too dangerous to breed? I hope there are several research teams designing a few studies to find out.
Photo: Sebastia Torrens
For the moment being a professional fishermen are the only witnesses who can get a glimpse of what's going on at sea. Maybe they see more marine mammals or have noticed that the lack of boating activity has had a positive effect on their catch. We don't know yet, and whilst I'm very keen to ask them I'm also aware that like many other sectors they are going through hard times and working at half capacity due to reduced demand. A severe blow to a sector which is already in decline.
This is a reminder of the challenges and uncertainty that the confinement is creating for many economic sectors and people. In addition to the huge loss of lives, the Covid-19 pandemic is causing economic turmoil. A recent poll shows 50% of the Spanish population concerned about their jobs. The short-term biodiversity gains come at a huge cost. And this is no time to celebrate. A healthy natural environment does not require an economic crisis.
But as governments deal with the COVID crisis and start to prepare economic recovery interventions, we need to reflect on a couple of issues. Firstly, the vulnerability and precariousness of our economic system. This crisis has shown how reliant all countries and people are on each other. Even more so in an island. As a result, collaboration is essential.
Secondly the relationship between humans and nature. If we take care of nature, nature takes care of us. The more aware we are of the connection between the health of humans, wildlife and ecosystems the more likely we are to avoid future events like this. Restoring damaged ecosystems will benefit our society and our economy making it more resilient.
We know the world will look very different after the Covid-19 pandemic, but at the Marilles Foundation our roadmap remains the same: transforming the Balearic region into a world reference of marine conservation alongside an economically prosperous region with high levels of well being for all.