Amid coronavirus scare, Kolkata begins to heal its air and water quality – Times of India

Kolkata News

Deserted roads, vacant offices, malls sans customers and anxious residents cooped up in their homes —the past few days have taken a toll on human activities around the world, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. While we are flooded with upsetting news coming in from all quarters, slowly but surely a highly positive environmental revolution of sorts is taking place in Kolkata. The city, as it seems, is beginning to heal, what with significantly lower pollution levels, cleaner water bodies and rare birds and butterflies making a comeback.

Air is cleaner

In November last year, Kolkata’s air was fouler than Delhi’s, with the
average air quality index (AQI) going well past the 400-mark at Ballygunge. It prompted health experts to advise restrictions on outdoor activities,
particularly morning walks. Currently, the city’s average AQI is between 70 and 110. “These figures indicate pure bliss. While discussing air pollution, we mostly talk about particles in the air that cause all types of physical illness. With lesser traffic and human activities, the suspended air particles are
significantly lower in the atmosphere now,” said Kalyan Rudra, chairman of West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB). Similar readings were recorded on Holi due to a traffic slowdown.

The skies are getting clear

Lower amount of suspended particles in the air has led to better visibility too. This is giving photographers and stargazers a much clearer view of Kolkata’s skyline and night sky. Kaustuv Chowdhury, secretary general of Kolkata Astronomy Centre, said, “Though we have suspended all meets keeping in mind the coronavirus threat, all our members are stargazing from their respective homes. The stars are much brighter due to the clear sky. Just
yesterday, I noticed Venus looking even brighter than usual.”

Rare birds fly back to the city

Lower pollution levels are attracting more birds to the city, including rare ones. According to Swarup Saha, a bird watcher, birds are sensitive to pollution and there have been several sightings of rare birds in Rabindra Sarobar in the last 10 days, much more than compared to recent years. “Large hawk-cuckoo, blue throated blue flycatcher and ultramarine flycatcher are among the most interesting birds spotted recently. This is probably the first time a large hawk-cuckoo has been spotted in Kolkata,” said Swarup.
Ornithologist Sumit Sen said one of the reasons for the increase in bird sightings is the reduced numbers of cars as well as humans on the streets. “Thanks to lower sound pollution, birds are now coming down on the ground to find food. This has increased the feeding hours for them,” he added.

Water is cleaner

Not just air, the city’s water bodies are looking cleaner too. With lesser industrial waste and human activities, there’s been a possible reduction in pollutants going into the Hooghly. According to Kalyan, a monthly water test is conducted by WBPCB and the board will be able to reveal the actual data only after testing the Hooghly water next month. However, Bapi Halder, a fisherman and secretary of a south Bengal-based fisherman association, said they have noticed about 5% to 10% increase in the number of fish in the Hooghly. “Many are now sceptical about fishing due to the coronavirus scare. That is helping the fish population grow, especially the small ones. Besides, the water purity has improved with all the big trawlers and boats gone,” he said.

More butterflies

Insects, known to be highly intolerant to pollution, are also finding their way back to the city. Somenath Pal Das, who specialises in butterfly gardens and breeding butterflies, said the number of butterflies in his garden has multiplied in the last one week. “Though I haven’t spotted any rare species yet, the numbers are significantly higher than what I saw even two weeks back,” he said. Species like common mormon, common lime, common palmfly and common rose are being sighted commonly now. “Declining pollution levels is the most prominent reason for this. Besides, with fewer vehicles on streets, insects are much more confident to come out of their hidings since collision with high-speed cars is one of the biggest reasons for butterfly deaths,” he added.

Around the world

#In New York, carbon monoxide, mainly from cars, reduced by nearly 50% compared to last year
#China’s greenhouse gas emissions over the month of February are as much as a quarter below normal levels
#A near shutdown of cruise and cargo-ship traffic around Venice has resulted in fish returning to the Venice lagoon and canals for the first time indecades

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