Charleston, S.C. (WCBD) – One of the biggest positive effects of the pandemic has been on the environment and wildlife. Charleston saw both short-term improvement in air quality and long term improvement to the lives of animals.
Empty roads, clear skies, and vacant storefronts were a negative for the economy but a positive for air quality.
“Our daily lives were fundamentally changed with the pandemic. Less people were on the roads, less people were flying, and less people were heading into work,” said Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson.
Dickson says the shutdowns lead to fewer pollutants like ozone particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.
“It’s estimated that around 25% of global emissions were reduced during the key shutdown times of the pandemic,” Dickson added.
Daily emissions are largely back to pre-pandemic levels now, but those few months of good air quality made a big difference.
“When you’re talking about lessened air quality with a disease that primarily impacts the lungs, it really does make a difference. Cleaner air leads to a little bit lessened impact with COVID,” Dickson stated.
A more lasting impact that will be seen here in Charleston is on the beaches, where fewer crowds gave shorebirds the opportunity to make a new home.
“This season was the first time that Least Terns were successfully nesting out here,” said Janet Thibault, a wildlife biologist with the SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).
Least Terns are a small coastal bird. Thibault says that they are threatened in the state, with only about 1,000 nestings in South Carolina.
This year saw a greater turnout, thanks in part to the pandemic.
“About 32 pairs nested here on the beach and hatched their chicks and we’re really happy to see it. The habitat was perfect this year,” mentioned Thibault.
Since beaches were closed to the public the birds found remote locations that would not be interrupted by foot traffic.
“There wasn’t too much predation and they successfully hatched their chicks and that was really great to see. This was only one of three beach locations that were successful for least terns this year,” Thibault added.
Since the birds were able to hatch their chicks, experts expect that they will be back next year, hopefully making Folly Beach a permanent home.