Citizen science helps report ecosystem changes during the lockdown in Venice

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The current unforeseeable situation offers scientists an undesired, albeit unique opportunity to study the relationship between humans and the environment.

The Ecology research team at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice has recently launched a campaign to collect pictures and data on the lagoon, by also asking the citizens for help.

Among many other things, the Italian response to the Covid-19 epidemic has had a drastic impact on one of the most well-known and visited cities in the world, Venice. Without any tourists and private transports, the lagoon ecosystem is benefitting from the absence of these two important anthropic factors.

This unforeseeable situation offers scientists an undesired, albeit unique opportunity to study the relationship between humans and the environment. The lack of waves and the water quality in the canals have already inspired many residents to share pictures of this out of the ordinary situation. The Ecology research team at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice has recently launched a campaign to collect pictures and data on the lagoon, by also asking the citizens for help.

The scientists are now prompting Venetian people, those who have the possibility to observe the surrounding environment from their house or during one of the few authorized walks, to document the presence of animals and the state of the canals. All the collected material can then be sent to the research team via social media, email or online form.

The research will help delineate new sustainable systems for the city. The so-called ecosystem services will be under scrutiny, from ecological and hydrodynamic processes for water treatment to salt marshesand water plant life that trap carbon dioxide, but also fishing, recreational activities and even day trips to the lagoon.


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“From a research standpoint, the anomalous situation we’re currently seeing is like an unexpected experiment, whose effects can be observed and quantified – explained Fabio Pranovi, Professor of Ecology at the Department of Environmental Sciences, Informatics and Statistics and coordinator of the research team – Due to the substantial decrease in anthropicactivities, we expect to witness changes in the ecological processes and consequently in some “services” provided by the ecosystem that havea lot to do with the wellbeing of human society”.

For some years now, scientists have focused their research on quantifying and modelling the relationship between the wellbeing of humans, the surrounding ecosystem and its processes, particularly in the Venice lagoon area and the Upper Adriatic sea. Now the time has come to apply this analytical approach to the current situation.

The theory is that the transportation ban and the absence of tourists can have both positive and negative effects on ecosystem services: for example, on one hand, the water quality improves, but on the other hand fishing and recreational activities get halted.

The study requires a huge variety of information. The researchers will use data from the satellites to monitor water turbidity and comparing it with past records. Moreover, they will also employ socioeconomic data, such as that regarding the tourism industry.

Ca’ Foscari University of Venice

Header Image – Public Domain

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