InterEnvironment Institute serves as the secretariat of this IUCN Specialist Group
InterEnvironment Institute serves as the secretariat of this IUCN Specialist Group
The first part of this list is structured by kinds of organizations and publications. The second part, starting with CRISIS COMMUNICATION, is structured by subject. Entries marked with asterisks (**) are key sources or portals to information. A good place to start searching for information is the frequently updated COVID-19 website and daily newsletter of CIDRAP at the University of Minnesota.
IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and its Commissions and Secretariat:
IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA):
Civil society and academic organizations:
Publications and websites:
Several newspapers offer free subscriptions to email newsletters and/or free access to websites that cover news about COVID-19. These include the Guardian (UK), Los Angeles Times, Mail & Guardian (South Africa), New York Times, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), and Washington Post
Fact-checking: These initiatives work to counter misinformation, disinformation, and hoaxes about COVID-19:
Toilets or lack of them:
[Image: Scientific American]
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres calls the COVID-19 pandemic "the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War." Public health experts call it the worst pandemic since the H1N1 pandemic of 1918-1919.
On 8 April 2020, IUCN issued a Statement on the COVID-19 Pandemic. It focuses on sources of zöonotic diseases, diseases caused by a pathogen that has jumped from non-human animals to humans. COVID-19 is caused by a newly discovered coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 that is found in bats; the intermediate host is unknown. As drivers of zöonotic diseases, the statement mentions the illegal wildlife trade and land-use change, including deforestation and habitat fragmentation. In land-use change, the key factor is disturbance of the equilibrium between certain hosts and parasites.
The flagship publication of the IUCN WCPA Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group, Urban Protected Areas: Profiles and Best Practice Guidelines, covers land-use change in the form of urbanization in several of its guidelines, and a separate guideline (printed below) deals with emerging infectious diseases.
Starting in March 2020, many urban protected areas, as well as other protected areas, were temporarily closed to the public to control the spread of COVID-19 among visitors, staff, and neighbors. Calls to reopen these places have increased, and in some cases this has led to the responsible agencies allowing full or limited public access, usually with new rules.
On what basis should protected areas be kept open, closed, or reopened?
The usual answer is “When it’s safe to do so,” but what does that mean? Often the answer is “The science will tell us.” But science is descriptive, not prescriptive; it can give us a basis for decision-making but cannot tell us the difference between right and wrong.
In this case, much of the science is uncertain. In early July 2020, the steering committee of the IUCN WCPA Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group looked into the issues surrounding protection of people from COVID-19 in urban protected areas. We found there are still many unknowns about the virus and the disease. There are disagreements among scientists and public health experts about how the virus is transmitted, including by aerosols. Few studies have been carried out on outdoor transmission, so it is difficult to define a safe distance for social distancing. There are questions about face masks, toilets, and other factors. Guidance from leading public health organizations is inconsistent and conflicting. And, of course, there are different circumstances in different countries and cities.
We concluded it would be difficult to make a cogent statement about this except to urge caution. Thus, the precautionary principle comes into play. A formal definition of the precautionary principle, adopted by UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology, reads: “When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm. Morally unacceptable harm refers to harm to humans or the environment that is threatening to human life or health, or serious and effectively irreversible, or inequitable to present or future generations, or imposed without adequate consideration of the human rights of those affected.”
Specialists in ethics are producing guidelines for dealing with issues surrounding COVID-19. A good example is An ethics framework for the COVID-19 reopening process, issued by the bioethics institute at Johns Hopkins University. It centers on methods of analyzing tradeoffs between shared values such as well-being and freedom.
In looking into the risks involved, I found this article especially useful: Reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2, Science, 26 June 2020. The lead author is atmospheric chemist Kimberly A. Prather, a Distinguished Professor at the University of California, San Diego.
Urban protected areas, defined as protected areas situated in or at the edge of larger population centers, have particular challenges in responding to COVID-19. They are distinctive from more remote protected areas in several ways, including that their urban visitors tend to be much more diverse ethnically and economically and tend to lack experience of wilder forms of nature. For details, see this page of the website.
Although outdoor transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is usually less of a risk than transmission indoors, the number of annual visits to individual nature reserves in and around metropolitan areas can be substantial, even in the millions. In some cases, these include visits by numerous tourists from other countries, increasing the risk of spreading the virus more widely.
In urban areas, "parks" is a word that is easily misunderstood. On one hand it refers to conventional city or town parks with lawns, flower gardens, playgrounds, and sports fields. On the other hand, it is used for more natural and wilder places called protected or conserved areas This is a crucial distinction when considering how the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads in public spaces. Activity can be a lot harder to monitor in nature reserves than in conventional city parks, where visitors are more visible and can be discouraged from gathering.
Four final points:
Don’t assume visitors will respect rules about social distancing, face covering, congregating, and human waste. Whether they do so will depend largely on local circumstances and differences in social norms.
Beware of misinformation and disinformation: see Fact-checking under Online Resources, above.
Draw on expertise in crisis communication. According to Peter Sandman, one of the leaders in that field, the most common communication mistake being made about COVID-19 is "over-reassuring" the public that everything will be all right. Sandman says this can make frightened people even more frightened, or it can have the opposite effect of leading them to ignore or abandon precautions they ought to be taking. He has more advice on his website.
Prepare for the next time. Public health experts like to tell us “It’s not a question of if but when” the next outbreak, epidemic, or pandemic of infectious disease will happen. Agencies responsible for protected and conserved areas should maintain contingency plans for these events just as they do for responding to other emergencies.
-- Ted Trzyna, Chair, IUCN WCPA Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group. Revised 27 August 2020 [Graphic: U.S. National Park Service]
From Urban Protected Areas: Profiles and best practice guidelines. Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series No. 22. Gland: IUCN, 2015. Pages 65, 67.
Guideline 9. Reduce human-wildlife interaction and conflict; keep aware of emerging infectious diseases
To reduce hazards resulting from the interaction between wildlife and people in and near their parks, managers of urban protected areas should: …
• Be aware of the potential danger to people of emerging infectious diseases in wildlife and the natural environment; and
• Educate decision-makers about the value of keeping habitat as natural as possible to control such emerging infectious diseases. …
9.6 Emerging infectious diseases
Infectious diseases that have newly appeared in a human population or have been known for some time but are rapidly increasing in incidence or geographic range, are called ‘emerging infectious diseases’. Most of them are zöonotic, that is, they are transmitted between other animals and humans. Examples are malaria, dengue, yellow fever, plague and leishmaniasis.
Degradation of wildlife habitat, increased edge effect and increased human-wildlife interaction are all major drivers of zöonotic diseases, as is human interaction with domestic and farm animals. The key factor is disturbance of the equilibrium between certain hosts and parasites. A good illustration is Lyme disease, first described in 1977 in the northeastern United States, which has since been found in other parts of North America, as well as parts of Europe, Asia and Australia. Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to humans by bites from ticks [above: deer tick, Ixodes scapularis]. If it is treated early, the infection is eliminated by antibiotics. If untreated, it can lead to meningitis, heart disorders and severe arthritis. In eastern North America, the white-footed mouse (Peromyscys leucopus) is an important reservoir of the Lyme disease pathogen. In intact habitats, mouse populations are controlled by owls, hawks, snakes, foxes, weasels and other species. In fragmented or degraded habitats, such predators are fewer in number or may not exist.
Globally, the generally warmer and wetter conditions resulting from climate change, combined with habitat changes, are expected to encourage the conditions in which the spread of infectious diseases (including entirely new diseases) occurs, thus increasing the danger of transmission to humans.
Urban protected areas have a dual role here. When they protect natural ecosystems that are more or less intact, they tend to keep the ecology of microorganisms in balance. But when they are degraded, such as around roads, along boundaries and in heavily visited locations, they may facilitate the interaction among pathogens, vectors and hosts, and thus create the conditions in which disease is spread. These are good reasons for maintaining urban protected areas in as natural a state as possible.
The links between loss of wildlife habitat and emerging infectious diseases are receiving increased attention from scientific researchers and public health professionals. Managers of protected areas should keep abreast of what is happening in their regions and cooperate with those involved. They should also educate governmental decision-makers about the value of keeping wildlife habitat as natural as possible so as to control emerging infectious diseases—in addition to many other reasons.
Deer tick, Ixodes scapularis