Despite all the suffering and chaos, there were a few positives for the planet Earth in 2020, as the year stood as a testimony to the larger impact we could have through the planned limiting of our polluting activities. With lesser traffic, limited travel curtailed human movement; nature thrived!
Also, scientists kept on publishing path-breaking discoveries, some of which added to the list of existing rich biodiversity while others offered solutions to long-standing environmental challenges. Altogether, 2020 did have some bright spots in the environment front amid the pandemic, which reminded us of the importance of respecting natural boundaries. Here is a list of some such positive news to end the year with optimism:
India etches spectacular big cats conservation story with increases in population
India scored big and left no stone unturned in the conservation of its big cats; Tiger and Leopard. Moreover, by conducting the world’s largest-ever camera trap wildlife survey in the form of the Tiger Survey, India added another record to the Guinness Book of World Records in 2020. The 2018-2019 survey captured about 76,523 images of tigers and around 51,337 photos of leopards. The survey showed the presence of 2,927 individual Tigers in India, an increase of more than 700 tigers in four years.
Moreover, in December, India proudly announced the increase in Leopard population by nearly 60% in four years. India is now home to 12,852 leopards spread across various parts of the country as of 2018, while it hosted around 7910 in 2014.
From drop-in pollution levels to rare sighting of animals, planet Earth regenerates amid pandemic-induced lockdown
On March 24, India announced a countrywide lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. With restrictions on non-essential movements, along with the suspension of all transport services, the unusually-deserted roads, and railway stations offered quite the eerie view. With no vehicles on the road, air quality, especially in the metropolitan cities of India notably improved. A drastic fall in the levels of nitrogen oxide was observed not just in India, but in several other countries as well.
The lack of human crowding also provided a rare opportunity for wildlife to venture out into the streets and human settlements. Multiple reports of monkeys raiding the streets, elephants roaming care-free, zoo animals being stress-free, and dolphins swimming close to the shores emerged this year in India. Other countries also reported instances of wild boars, sheep, deer, and turkeys taking over the otherwise bustling city streets. In addition, geoscientists also noticed a significant drop in the Earth’s ambient seismic noise and vibration.
Scientists discover hundreds of peculiar new species across the globe, including India
The year 2020 was also the year for wildlife discoveries as several new species were spotted from various parts of the globe, while many lost species were rediscovered. India too documented a number of peculiar species from various parts such as completely blind underground ant from Goa, the wood snake from the Western Ghats, and dwarf gecko from the Eastern Ghats among others. Meanwhile, globally, new species of Comb jellies were found from Puerto Rico, while in a major discovery, scientists documented 20 new faunal diversities from Zongo Valley of the Bolivian Andes.
New rainforest in the sea: Another deep-sea coral reef ecosystem discovered after 120 years
On October 26, scientists from Schmidt Ocean Institute announced the discovery of a new detached coral reef ecosystem at the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. This is the first time since the last 120 years that scientists have discovered such a massive coral reef, which measures more than 1,640 ft (500 m)—taller than the world’s famous skyscrapers like the Empire State Building, the Sydney Tower, and the Petronas Twin Towers.
On the other hand, earlier in March this year, researchers discovered stunning “gardens” of deep-sea corals in the mysterious Bremer Canyon Marine Park off southwestern Australia during an oceanographic expedition. Read about these two significant discoveries on coral ecosystems here and here.
India successfully breeds ‘critically endangered’ Great Indian Bustard
India entered the year 2020 with a unique world record as the news of successful breeding of the Great Indian Bustard came out in the first week of the year in January. The global population of the bird had plummeted to 150. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) categorizes the species as critically endangered. Read the full story here.
Whale Warriors: Over 100 stranded whales rescued in Sri Lanka
Over 100 stranded whales, swept ashore on Sri Lanka’s beaches, were rescued and pushed back to sea after a nearly 18-hour rescue mission this November. The officials said, nearly 120 whales had been washed ashore on the Panadura beaches—on the outskirts of capital Colombo. This event was regarded as Sri Lanka’s largest mass stranding of whales, reported so far. Nearly 70 navy and coast guard personnel along with civilian groups were involved in the rescue mission. Continue reading here.
Cloned ‘Kurt’ brings new hope to endangered Przewalski’s horse species
On the first Thursday of August 2020, an adorable colt named ‘Kurt’ was born in Texas, stealing the limelight from all the ‘normal’ animals at the veterinary facility. He is a Przewalski’s horse—an endangered species that, not long ago, was on the brink of extinction. Kurt is the world’s first successfully cloned Przewalski’s horse. Read more about Kurt here.
Research finds high levels of biodiversity in river Ganga
The survey conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has stated that around 49 percent of the holy river is rich with flora and fauna. It added that spotting of rare and unique species like Gangetic Dolphin has become much more common. This study was launched by the WII on behalf of the National Mission for Clean Ganga, which is one of the major projects under the Ministry of Jalshakti. The first phase of this survey was conducted between 2017-2019. Know more about river Ganga’s biodiversity here.
To combat climate change, Indian Railways vows to ‘Go Green’ by 2030
In a bid to make railways carbon-free by 2030, the Indian government has initiated a number of major initiatives this year, including the adaptation of renewable sources of energy, use of solar energy, electrification of the railways, updating energy efficiency of locomotives, trains, and fixed installations, getting green certification for stations/installations, and installment of bio-toilets in coaches. Read the full story here.
Novel technique to enable recycling of plastic bottles
In the latest breakthrough towards fighting plastic pollution, scientists have re-engineered the existing plastic-easting enzyme to create a super-enzyme cocktail, which is shown to digest or eat plastic six times faster. The new super-enzyme is derived from the bacterium, PETase, which has the ability to digest plastics and use them as carbon and energy sources. Know more about this enzyme here.