Research & Conservation

COVID-19 and the changing environment

To any degree at this point in time, the Covid-19 outburst has affected your life, in one way or another. We’re all in it together, and our own behaviour towards this scenario can help shape our own health. This new infectious and contagious disease is now a part of the world’s reality, just like Global Warming, just like the plastic problem, and rising sea levels. With the global death toll already reaching over 200,000 humans, the different countries are putting up extreme measures to reduce it and critically flatten the curve, a concept explained further below.

At the Malta National Aquarium we too have taken our own precautions and have decided that for the best of humanity, our front doors are closed for visitors. This is not to say we abandoned ship, far from it. We are dedicating our time to our lovely and healthy creatures inside our aquarium tanks. Every one of them is like a child to us, so we are doing the best we can to care and nurture them. Still, this place feels lonely and empty without you guys visiting us. We miss your voices and your occasional screams of joy when a shark flies overhead. We miss the kids running around grinning and we simply can’t wait to have you flood this place with positive energy once more. We will keep you up to date with our latest news and as soon as the situation returns to normal, which it will, our animals will greet you with their usual love and affection.


Flatten the curve

Flattening the curve is crucial. Basically in a nutshell, we are seeing a spike of cases, and when this happens it puts a huge strain on our healthcare services. This puts us all at risk as sooner or later even our doctors and nurses will get sick and require treatment. Catching this sickness will guarantee a lay off period of two weeks minimum, so we must be careful not to spread it. Flattening the curve happens by following basic rules

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Avoid human contact
  • Practice social distancing
Washing Hands
Wash your hands regularly


These three rules of thumb are not hard to do but will make a huge difference to the rate of sickness and the rate of spread. It allows medical resources to be used more widely and limits the spread. Going shopping and stocking up on insane amounts of masks and toilet paper is not a wise move, as once more our medical teams need these too. Even from an environmental perspective, washing rather than wiping is both cleaner for you and better for nature herself. Think about it…

Coronavirus poster design with graph flattening the curve of coronavirus illustration
Flatten the curve


A link to climate change

A link between a pandemic like Covid-19 and SARS and climate change is worth investigating. History shows that an increase in human activity, trade, travel, rising temperatures have often lead to outbursts of major diseases such as Ebola, Nipah and Zika.

The Climate Herald’s studied the link between disease and climate change and shows that an increase in deforestation is also linked to the spread as animal transmitted diseases have risen by 31% and with Covid-19 originating from animal trade and consumption, the link is almost clear.

Diseases like malaria spread faster in warmer climates, meaning as global temperatures do increase, so will malaria cases. Fortunately, in the case of malaria and many diseases, vaccines and easily accessible treatment is readily available, however, we should take a second here to realize that we need to make this medicine more accessible in Africa, where malaria is still a huge problem.

Cholera also can spread in times of extreme flooding, as being a waterborne disease, the very substance becomes a breathing ground for bacteria and mosquitos, who will find no competition in terms of prey.

All the above-mentioned diseases are all linked to climate disasters and climate change, so we must take this into account when discussing COVID-19.

We humans have forever altered the balance of the natural world. We’ve chopped down forests, build damns, changed crucial river routes, taken away beaches, soil and increased desertification through our recklessness, so in harsh times like this, we must once more listen to mother nature and realize that she is trying to tell us something… 

Can you think about what she is desperately whispering in our ears?


The illegal animal trade and the plight of the pangolin

The beautifully scaled pangolin is the world’s most illegally traded creature.  

They are nocturnal creatures that live in hollow trees and burrows, eating ants and termites using their long tongues to fish out their prey. Pangolins are covered in keratin scales, and this is the main reason they are so highly in demand for poachers. Pangolins already suffer due to deforestation however it is their meat and scales that is sought after as they are used in Chinese Medicine…

They are listed as critically endangered by the Red List of Threatened Species

Genomic sequencing has now found a 99% match between the coronavirus found in pangolins, and SARS. While the match is not pure, 100%, a mass slaughtering of the animal has since taken place, as what happened to civets during the SARS outbreak. This is despite the fact that this animal is not a direct source of the illness…

Scientists specializing in this novel sickness are plotting down the route of the outbreak, but so far have only discovered the fact that is may come from an animal source. This highlights the danger of animal trading, particularly in open markets, where it is so often one illegally and in an unsafe manner.

Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are mammals of the order Pholidota.
Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are mammals of the order Pholidota.


No humans = cleaner streets and canals

Our neighbouring Italians are experiencing hell. This disease has spread massively in the country for many reasons which we won’t get into, however with the country now on complete lockdown, we are beginning to see things we haven’t witnessed in decades. 

People are taking to social media to post photos and videos of the Venice Canals. This beautiful city is constantly flooded with tourists and boats. Tourists bring about noise, pollution, litter, crowding, and chaos for the natural world. The boats in the canals constantly pollute with chemicals. Remove these two factors and what do we have? Cleaner canals! You can actually see to the bottom of them, and fish have returned at last!

Dolphins are now also thriving and coming into ports where no heavy ships are docked as human activity freezes momentarily. There are no people… and no people = no litter. Less plastic in the oceans, no invasion of our creature’s space. It is truly a new dawn, and while this is wonderful to see, it is another eye-opener. Once more, think about that message Mother Nature is trying to give us…

Venice is changing. Credit:


It will pass

Like everything else in life, this will all pass. Things will get back to normal. If you are feeling anxious about the situation, think about the perspective. A few months of downtime, indoors to let the world have a break from us humans. It will pass, and before long you will be at work, at school, or visiting our tanks here at the Malta National Aquarium.

Once it does pass, however, humans will have a long list of lessons to learn. While the battle with climate change still continues to loom large, other mini battles also share the limelight. Pollution, animal trade, deforestation are all linked to the disease spreading… so let’s ensure we can slow down a little bit and remember one thing: we are here to share the world… not own it.


Now please, go and wash your hands, again.