Story at a glance

  • Italy is under lockdown to fight the spread of COVID–19, which has killed more than 3,400 people in the country so far.
  • With the canals in Venice empty of its usual boat traffic, photos on social media show clear waters and the return of wildlife.
  • An Italian official says the water isn't necessarily less polluted, but the air has cleared up.

What would a world without humans look like? As countries go under lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID–19, photos that seemed to have the answer went viral on social media. They showed swans and even a dolphin popping up in the canals of Venice. As one observer put it enthusiastically, “Nature just hit the reset button.”

As it turns out, those posts were more wishful thinking than reality.

As National Geographic reports, "The swans in the viral posts regularly appear in the canals of Burano, a small island in the greater Venice metropolitan area, where the photos were taken. The “Venetian” dolphins were filmed at a port in Sardinia, in the Mediterranean Sea, hundreds of miles away."

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For many millions of people around the world, though, it was a small sign of hope as the country’s death toll rose above 2,500 on March 17

Here are some of those (now-debunked) tweets:

 

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The part about the waters looking clearer, at least, is true. In Venice, the canals normally teeming with tourists and boat traffic are nearly empty. Most nonessential travel to countries in the European Union is banned and Italy, the epicenter of the outbreak on the continent, has closed all nonessential businesses.

But the Venice mayor's office told CNN that while the canals might look cleaner than before the lockdown, the water quality hasn't necessarily improved.

"The water now looks clearer because there is less traffic on the canals, allowing the sediment to stay at the bottom," a spokesman told CNN. "It's because there is less [of the] boat traffic that usually brings sediment to the top of the water's surface." 

SEE ALSO: Coronavirus should be a wake-up call to our treatment of the animal world

That’s not to say the lockdown hasn’t had any positive environmental effects for a city that months before was battling overtourism

"The air, however, is less polluted since there are less vaporetti and boat traffic than usual because of the restricted movement of residents," the spokesman said, referring to the public waterbus, the Vaporetto. 

Italians have increasingly turned to social media to spread positivity in the weeks since lockdown measures were implemented. Videos of people singing in unison from their balconies have gone viral and even inspired U2 frontman Bono to release new music on his Instagram and Facebook pages.


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Published on Mar 18, 2020