‘Like being on a coral reef’: Marine life returns to heart of Venice in Italy’s lockdown

"The flora and fauna of the lagoon have not changed during lockdown. What has changed is our chance to see them," says zoologist Andrea Mangoni, plunging his camera into Venice's normally murky waters to observe life.

'Like being on a coral reef': Marine life returns to heart of Venice in Italy's lockdown
Venice's waters are clearer than they have been in years after six weeks of lockdown. Photo: Marco Sabadin/AFP

A crab tries to grab the intruding lens, jellyfish propel themselves along near the surface, schools of fish swim peacefully by, crustaceans cling to the city's famous jetties, and seaweed of every colour wafts gently on the current.

The coronavirus has emptied Venice of millions of tourists since the beginning of March and its waters are no longer stirred by the thousands of boats, taxis, vaporetti, and gondolas that usually cross it.

IN PHOTOS: Silent squares and clear waters as Venice stands empty

For Mangoni, this is an opportunity to rediscover the very diverse ecosystem that populates the Venice Lagoon. His film of a jellyfish swimming slowly though translucent canal water has gone viral on social media.

“Now we can see 50 or 60 centimetres, and sometimes even a metre from the surface. As a result, we can see animals that were literally hidden in the murky waters.”

Mangoni says he has never seen such clear waters in the 20 years he has worked in Venice.

“The only difference is that some animals that before were relegated to bigger or wider canals in the lagoon can now go as far as in the city centre, since the traffic of gondolas, motorboats and smaller boats has ceased,” he said.

Marco Sigovini, a researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences of Venice (ISMAR-CNR), says he has seen marine species in the centre of the former city state for the first time.

“Fauna and flora of Venice Lagoon are much more diversified and interesting than what one might think,” he said.

“What decreased in the city is not only traffic with pollution produced by boats, but also the noise, which is another kind of pollution and disturbs many lagoon organisms.”

OPINION: After flooding and coronavirus, is it time Venice stopped relying on tourism?

Nevertheless, he is not surprised at how many jellyfish are being observed. “Over the last 20-30 years jellyfish have increased in numbers generally. They come into the lagoon more and more frequently, particularly at certain times of year, perhaps carried by the current,” he said.

“Normally, there's a lot of traffic so it's likely many of them are often killed.”

Mangoni takes pictures and videos on his way to work and says life in Venice these days is “like being on a coral reef”.

“The number of colours and lifeforms is extraordinary, which makes the lagoon unique,” he said.

But Sigovini does not think much will change long-term for Venetian fauna.

“Most likely these few months of lockdown won't suffice to really change the quality of our ecosystem,” he said. 

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”