“It’s this reversal of the experimental or semi-experimental intervention that scientifically allows really robust insights into how environmental processes work,” Dr. Rutz said.
Understanding these mechanisms can help experts design programs and policies that channel our influence more thoughtfully.
“If we then strengthen the role as custodians and then continue to regulate pressures, then we can really tilt the role of humans in the environment to an overwhelmingly positive role,” said Carlos Duarte, a marine ecologist at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.
For example, one team of researchers found that with vacationers not traveling to the Greek island of Zakynthos in the summer of 2020, the loggerhead sea turtles that nest there spent more time close to shore in the warmer waters that are optimal for female egg development than they had in previous years.
The results suggest that tourists are driving sea turtles into cooler waters, slowing egg development and potentially reducing the number of clutches, or batches of eggs, the animals lay during the short nesting season, said Gail Schofield, a conservation ecologist at Queen Mary University of London and an author of the study.
“It’s a very narrow window of opportunity,” she said.
Halting all tourism is not possible, she acknowledged. But designating a stretch of the shoreline as a protected turtle habitat and prohibiting swimming there in the early summer could provide an important refuge for the animals, she said.