There are cross-benefits to protecting coastal wetlands in the wake of COVID-19

Dr Ryan Pearson

Read Time: 503 words about 3 minutes.

The effects of COVID-19 on the world has been profound. We’re now re-evaluating intergovernmental, trade and personal relationships, and rethinking our consumer needs. Environmental groups have been encouraging people to ‘eat more fish’ in response to this pandemic.  Consumer surveys during the pandemic have  also highlighted greater apprehension about receiving goods from certain countries. Online purchases have increased, including online grocery shopping as people are eating more frequently at home. So, it’s already changed many parts of our lives, maybe forever, but how will this pandemic affect the world’s biodiversity?

We can’t possibly know how everything will play out, but as the world goes into recovery mode, we could choose to apply tactics that promote positive outcomes for biodiversity. In fact, many strategies that protect biodiversity also have benefits for combating climate change, safeguarding supply chains, and protecting human health. We discussed these topics in our recent letter in the Journal Science.

COVID-19. Photo: Ottumwa Radio.

But here, I want to talk about how COVID-19 could be a platform to implement better protections for coastal wetlands, particularly due to some interdependencies between human health, food security, and healthy habitats.

Coastal wetlands support fisheries, with healthier wetlands linked to higher fish catches. They also minimise our exposure to, and impacts from, other catastrophes like storm events, tsunamis, and climate change. Events that are difficult to manage, even without the added stress of emerging diseases.

Mangroves, seagrasses, and saltmarshes provide endless ecosystem services in combating climate change, protecting coastlines, supporting fisheries, and much, much more. Unfortunately, these vital habitats have been suffering, with losses of more than 50% worldwide, and many regional wetland ecosystems are at high risk of collapse. This type of habitat and biodiversity loss has been linked to higher likelihood of new diseases.

COVID-19 is believed to have emerged due to the consumption of wild mammals, like pangolins and bats. In general, protecting habitat and biodiversity is well known to reduce the risk of potential pandemics. The fact is half of the world’s pangolin species and many bats inhabit mangrove ecosystems. This gives rise to the speculation, ‘would protecting mangrove ecosystems help reduce our risk of coming in contact with pathogens that are carried by both pangolins and bats?’

Many species use mangroves as a nursery as it offers shelter from larger predators. Photo: Shutterstock.

Beyond speculation about any effects of direct associations with the animals linked to this virus, coastal wetlands provide many benefits that help humanity and increase social well-being and resilience. These benefits can minimise the risk of compounding stressors when future pandemics arise and, in doing so, avoid pushing us beyond a societal breaking point under such circumstances.

This gives rise to the speculation, ‘would protecting mangrove ecosystems help reduce our risk of coming in contact with pathogens that are carried by both pangolins and bats?’

Coastal wetlands support fisheries, with healthier wetlands linked to higher fish catches. They also minimise our exposure to, and impacts from, other catastrophes like storm events, tsunamis, and climate change. Events that are difficult to manage, even without the added stress of emerging diseases.

Ultimately, improving protection of coastal wetlands as the world reboots from COVID-19 lockdowns could lead to improved food security, social and environmental resilience, and reduce the risk of new diseases emerging. These are just some of the cross-benefits that healthy coastal wetland ecosystems provide in the face of catastrophe and uncertainty.


Author’s Twitter:

@WorldInPlainEng

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