Images of dolphins cruising Italian ports and swans floating beneath picturesque bridges in Venice’s famous canals are popping up on social media feeds. But clearer water doesn’t necessarily mean cleaner. Unfortunately, two weeks of lockdown isn’t enough to reverse centuries of human impact on Venice’s canals.
Boat traffic kicking up natural sediment is the main cause of the canals’ usual murkiness. “The low turbidity of the water does not mean cleanliness,” Pierpaolo Campostrini, the managing director for the Consortium for Managing Scientific Research on Venice Lagoon System, told ABC News. “The transparency is due to the absence of sediment resuspension.” Cold water is probably also contributing to the canals’ clarity, as it’s not warm enough for the synthesis of organic compounds from carbon dioxide.
Water pollution can be invisible. “Pollution can impact how water appears, but perfectly clear water can contain toxic substances,” Kristen Thyng, assistant research professor at Texas A&M University, told Afar.
Italy has been on lockdown since March 9, when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed a national quarantine. At the time of writing, Italy has more than 59,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. This is the second-highest national rate after China. Venice is in northern Italy, where factories usually cause air pollution. Because the nationwide lockdown has prompted the temporary closure of many industries, air quality has improved. The European Space Agency has captured clearer skies from its satellites. However, chemical analysis would be necessary to say exactly how much both air and water quality have improved in Italy during the pandemic.
Citizens of Venice were still recovering from record high tides last November, which prompted the Italian government to declare a state of emergency. Many shops and hotels flooded, and St. Mark’s Square, a tourist favorite, was underwater.
Unfortunately, most locals aren’t able to appreciate the canals’ current beauty. Lockdown means they can only leave their homes for necessities, work and health circumstances.
Image via Gerhard Gellinger