Venice's canals are the cleanest they've been in living memory

Venice’s canals are the cleanest they’ve been in living memory after coronavirus lockdown leaves water clear and fish become visible

  • Venice’s usually murky canals have become clear enough since lockdown to see schools of fish underwater
  • White swans are also roaming canals which have been left deserted by their usual huge crowds of tourists
  • Officials believe that the lack of boat rides has allowed sediment in the canals to settle at the bottom 
  • Scientists say nitrogen oxide levels have dropped over northern Italy since country went into quarantine
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Venetian canals are the clearest they have been in living memory after Italy’s coronavirus lockdown stopped boats from bringing sediment to the surface. 

In a rare welcome side-effect of the health crisis, the usually murky waterways are clear enough to see the schools of fish under the water. 

White swans are also roaming the canals in a city where the usually overloaded piazzas and alleyways have become almost deserted, while air pollution has declined across northern Italy. 

With no tourists taking gondola rides along the canals, the sediment in the water has been able to settle at the bottom without being churned about – making the surface clearer.  

One Venetian local, Marco Capovilla, said he ‘had never seen’ the water so clear after filming some of the fish under the surface. 

Clearer than ever: Schools of fish are visible under the usually murky water of Venetian canals in the wake of Italy’s coronavirus lockdown. Sediment is no longer being brought to the surface since boat rides have effectively stopped 


Schools of fish (left) and white swans (right) on the Venetian canals after pollution levels dropped in northern Italy as the country grinds to a halt 

Fish swimming in the canals in Venice yesterday with the Italian economy grinding to a halt because of coronavirus, sparking a drop in pollution 

The usual picture: Tourists enjoy gondola rides through the murky canals in May 2019, with a nearby bridge also packed

‘The water now looks clearer because there is less traffic on the canals, allowing the sediment to stay at the bottom,’ a spokesman for the Venice mayor’s office told CNN.

‘It’s because there is less boat traffic that usually brings sediment to the top of the water’s surface.’  

‘The air, however, is less polluted since there are less vaporetti and boat traffic than usual because of the restricted movement of residents.’ 

Local resident Capovilla, 40, described the ‘striking’ clarity of the water in contrast to the usually dirty canals. 

‘The city doesn’t have sewers, so normally everything goes into the canals, including detergents and cosmetics,’ the estate agent said. 

‘Thanks to the quarantine, we are experiencing a cleaner environment.’ 

Bank worker Martina Bettoni, 33, said: ‘Seeing so many fish in the canals was extremely rare before the quarantine.

‘I hope we’ll learn from this tragic time, and that when this is over Venice will be able to strike a balance between tourist crowds and cleanliness.’

Images from a European Space Agency-backed programme have already shown pollution in sharp decline over northern Italy. 

They include significant reductions in NO2 levels in Venice and other major Italian cities such as Milan, Turin and Bologna. 

There are also signs of falling NO2 levels in Rome, although the quarantine measures have not been in place for so long there.  


White swans near a bridge (pictured left) clear water in the canals (right) and in Venice where the usually overcrowded streets and piazzas have been left deserted because of the coronavirus outbreak 

What they usually look like: A murky canal is pictured on February 28, before most of northern Italy had been locked down 

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service said nitrogen oxide levels appeared to have fallen by around 10 per cent in the last four weeks. 

‘Most of its emissions sources are located at the surface and are generated by human activities such as traffic, production of energy, residential heating, industries,’ the group said. 

However, they warned that some sources of pollution could increase. For example, people may use private cars more often to avoid public transport. 

Venice landmarks such as St Mark’s Square have become almost deserted with gondolas empty in a reversal of the city’s usual overcrowding problem. 

Last month’s Carnival was cancelled, flights have been scrapped, borders are closing and foreign governments are advising against travel to Italy. 

Health workers have been seen spraying streets, swimming pools, plazas, pavements and bridges in what the local council describes as ‘exceptional measures’.   


Nitrogen dioxide has dropped in northern Italy over a three-week period – February 14 (top left), February 24 (top right), March 4 (bottom left) and March 8 (bottom right) – following a month of coronavirus restrictions. The orange shading shows a heavy concentration of air pollution. These images were taken by a European Space Agency-backed satellite 

An empty Venice after the Italian government locked the country down over coronavirus, with flights scrapped and borders shut 

The city is usually one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting more than a million visitors from China alone last year. 

But the Venice tourist industry had already suffered a blow last year when ‘apocalyptic’ floods ravaged the lagoon city.  

The head of the Veneto region which includes Venice has said virus tests will be ramped up from 3,000 to more than 11,000 per day. 

‘Even if we find just one positive case, it means we will have 10 less infections,’ said Luca Zaia. 

‘I don’t really care about the budget. It is less important than the lives of our citizens.’ 

The governor has called on ‘everyone to remain in isolation’ to avoid putting hospitals under further strain.

‘If you do not follow the rules, the healthcare system will crash and I will have to impose a curfew,’ Zaia said. 

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