Why do dolphins swim near the shore?

Palma -

It almost sounds too good to be true: During the weeks of strict curfew on Mallorca, videos of animals are circulating on social networks that are supposed to be reclaiming the urban habitat. A family of ducks is calmly crossing a zebra crossing in the island's capital, Palma, and a group of dolphins are doing a lap near the shore.

"Many of the films are fakes"

But is two months of minimal human activity enough to actually bring about lasting changes in nature? "No," says Txema Brotons in a nutshell. The scientific director of the Mallorca-based marine mammal foundation Tursiops quickly puts the recordings made with smartphones into perspective: "Many of the films are fakes that were not made during the curfew or not on the islands." not necessarily more dolphins than before. "The only difference is that people now have the time to look out to sea and see the animals too."

While the residents of Mallorca and the other Balearic Islands have only been allowed to leave their houses in exceptional cases for seven weeks since March 15, such as to go shopping and to visit the doctor, and have only been able to go outside at certain times since an initial relaxation at the beginning of May, Brotons himself came recently enjoyed a scientific sailing trip again.

"We have never seen the Mediterranean so empty"

Tursiops has been studying the effects of underwater noise generated by ship engines on marine life such as dolphins and whales for over 20 years. The biologist raves about his week-long expedition, which ended on May 5th: "We have never seen the Mediterranean between Mallorca and Ibiza so empty."

He cannot yet say whether and how the currently prevailing silence at and below sea level will affect marine mammals. The data just collected would first have to be evaluated. “We only have one boat and two underwater microphones, so it's just a snapshot.

Nevertheless, the data are worth gold: Our reference month for underwater dormancy has been February, in which there is still a lot of natural noise due to storms, thunderstorms and rain. ”Now there are comparative data from May, with calm sea and almost no shipping traffic. "We would never have dreamed of that."

Hardly any tourism, significantly less waste

In March, the number of tourists on Mallorca fell by 65 percent. Instead of 450,000 vacationers as in March 2019, the authorities recorded only 153,250 visitors - they had arrived in the first two weeks of the month and were rushed back to their home countries after the curfew began. For April, the difference is even more striking: According to the Balearic Statistics Office Ibestat, a good million people arrived in Palma in the same month last year, and in April 2020 this number should be close to zero.

This is particularly noticeable when it comes to the amount of waste. In the first two weeks of April, the amount of residual waste generated on Mallorca fell by 39 percent. That is around 8,600 tons. Organic waste also decreased by around a third. "Normally we would register a significant increase in waste at this time of year, as is usual at the beginning of the season," says Aurora Ribot, who is responsible for sustainability and the environment at the island council. "Now, on the other hand, we are experiencing an unprecedented decline in the volume of waste."

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Is that already visible on the beaches? In some places it is, in other places not. The city beach of Palma, for example, is deserted, but not much cleaner than usual: screw caps from drinks bottles, styrofoam scraps and scraps of plastic are still washed into the sand by the waves. In Font de sa Cala in the east of the island, on the other hand, the beach looks more natural than ever: sand walls pile up next to the remains of Neptune grass, in the waterline lies a huge tree trunk on which small crustaceans are already visible. "Since nobody has" prepared "the beach for the season so far, you can now see what the untouched Habitat Beach actually looks like," says microbiologist Pau Morey. "The water is also incredibly clear."

Clear water, clean air

The air also recovers quickly: In the first two weeks of the blackout and the associated decrease in traffic, air pollution fell by 60 percent compared to the two previous weeks. According to the environmental association “Ecologistas en acción”, the nitrogen dioxide content in Palma fell by as much as 67 percent in April.

Biologist Brotons also notes that the absence of holidaymakers is noticeable. “The absence of tourists means that far fewer organic substances enter the sea, be it through sewage or directly through leftover food and uncleared feces from the yachts. The water is currently spectacularly transparent. "

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Overall, the pressure on the marine habitat has decreased significantly: professional fishermen have also gone out much less often, as fish from the islands is comparatively expensive and in normal times is mainly in demand in the kitchens of upscale restaurants and hotels that have now been closed for weeks.

Nature only uses the compulsory break temporarily

But the benefits that the Covid-19 forced break reveals to nature will likely only be temporary. In the long term, it then depends on the people: “When people are finally allowed out again, then they may be more aware of nature and its wealth. If we managed to pollute the environment less, then this bad time would at least have done a good thing, ”says the researcher. Immediately afterwards, however, he admits: "To be honest, I have my doubts." (Dpa)