The importance of natural areas during a pandemic
Beach near Sunset Crescent (affectionately known as Secret Beach). Source: Alexander Goddard
For the first time in approximately 7, maybe 8 weeks, I finally left my house this past weekend.
On March 20, I boarded a flight headed for my home of Barbados, unsure of when I would be returning to Canada. At the time, Barbados had only two or three known cases of coronavirus, fewer than in Canada, or even in the city of London, Ontario (where I reside in Canada). As such I ensured my family stocked up on two weeks of supplies and upon arrival, began our self-isolation period. I could not wait until this period was over, as the cases in Barbados remained low, and were only among tourists or returning nationals from highly impacted nations such as England and America. All I wanted to do was see my friends whom I had told I would not be home for summer. On day 13 of my self-isolation, there was a spike in cases in Barbados – the dreaded words ‘community spread’ were heard all around the island, and an emergency broadcast by the prime minister was scheduled for 7pm that night.
The beach! At last, I could return to where I feel the most home
24-hour lockdown – COVID – 19
The result: 24-hour lockdown, beginning immediately. I could not believe it – we weren’t even allowed to go to the supermarket! What was the government thinking? Was the situation so bad that it warranted the potential for people starving? To be fair, we were warned to stock up – but what about people who don’t listen to the news?
Well, there was nothing I could do, and thankfully family members had dropped off groceries for us the day before, as we were all still under self-isolation due to my return.
This 24-hour lockdown lasted 10 days before the government released its updated plan, allowing residents to go to supermarkets on designated days, based on the first letter of your last name, in alphabetical order. Only 1 family member was to go and time inside of stores was limited (although this was never enforced).
All of this backstory is to explain why I had not left my house in over 7 weeks, as only this week were restrictions lifted enough to allow us to go out to exercise. And, best of all from the hours of 6am-9am, we could go to the beach!
Gibbs Beach, Barbados. Source: Alexander Goddard
Social Distancing Rules to Follow
The beach! At last, I could return to where I feel the most home, on the white sand beaches of the tropical island I have called home for my whole life. But should I go to the beach? What if someone broke social distancing rules and sat too near to me? Thankfully, there is a beach near to my house that is hard to access. I decided that I would go right at 6am, and if I saw any cars parked nearby, I would leave – I really don’t want coronavirus. Saturday came and I packed my snorkels and headed to the beach as there is a beautiful reef off of the beach that catamaran cruises often stop at. No one was at the beach when I arrived, allowing me to feel comfortable. As someone who really loves the outdoors, animals, and just being around people, the past 7 weeks have been tough and cabin fever was really starting to set in. Being back outside was like a breath of fresh air and my soul and spirit felt rejuvenated. I had been reading all of these articles about how nature was returning due to less human interactions, which made sense, and I was really excited to see if there would be any difference in the reef ecosystem, as no loud boats would be around to scare the fish, as well as no tourists who often can’t help but touch the reef, and even break off pieces to take back to their homelands.
I hope that the general population immerse themselves in nature a little more, and hopefully they too may become impassioned by nature
What I saw was amazing; I had never seen so many fish on the reef, and I even saw a few green sea turtles, which often are only found further up the coast. All of the articles I had read seemed to be true; nature really was returning in all of its glory. In that moment I truly felt so grateful to be able to experience the beauty found within coral reefs yet couldn’t help feeling some sense of guilt; I hoped the fish didn’t mind my presence too much. I swam back in to the shore and sat on the beach, wondering whether or not my favourite pastime of snorkeling had any adverse effects on marine ecosystems. Upon contemplation, I decided no, there is little to no impact of me floating on the top of the surface appreciating the fish. After all my time spent inside, I had forgotten how much being completely immersed in nature can really improve your mental wellbeing, as well as just your general outlook on life. In that moment I couldn’t help but wonder how more people are not impassioned by the environment, and why there aren’t more people fighting to save our reefs, to save our forests, to stop the burning of fossil fuels.
And then, the privilege I have really dawned on me. How lucky am I to have grown up in paradise – where many people dream to vacation? How lucky am I to have been able to see what most only are able to see through a TV screen? How (strangely) lucky am I to have experienced firsthand the destruction of climate change on coral reefs and marine ecosystems. This has all allowed me to understand why climate change is the most important long-term issue of our generation, despite the current global health pandemic making it hard to think of the future.
Colony Club Beach, Barbados. Source: Alexander Goddard
This is all to say, I really hope that once the pandemic is over, we learn to appreciate the beauty of nature and the outdoors a little bit more and learn to acknowledge what a privilege it is to live in a world so beautiful. I hope that the general population immerse themselves in nature a little more, and hopefully they too may become impassioned by nature. This doesn’t have to be at a beach, or even in a forest; it could just be by walking through a city park or sitting down by a nearby river.
I hope when this is all said and done, we don’t return to the normal that everyone is crying out to re-boot but that we collectively begin to embark upon a new normal, one that places value on the outside, a place (and a space) that we’ve all come to realize is so important to us all, during good times and in bad.