How Can The New Attenborough Series Save The Planet?

Published January 31st, 2021 - 10:46 GMT
Lemon sharks swim in the shallow waters by the mangrove forests of Bimini, Bahamas. From the ‘Oceans’ episode of ‘A Perfect Planet.’ (© Ed Charles / Silverback Films 2018)
Lemon sharks swim in the shallow waters by the mangrove forests of Bimini, Bahamas. From the ‘Oceans’ episode of ‘A Perfect Planet.’ (© Ed Charles / Silverback Films 2018)

Between open-ended home confinement and international travel restrictions, there’s little source of entertainment these days but television. BBC Earth’s latest series offers viewers a safe, stimulating and informative way out of the house. Narrated by renowned broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, the five-part documentary is powered by stunning close-up footage, some which have never been captured before.

Four years in the making, “A Perfect Planet” was filmed in 31 countries on six continents, taking viewers from lands drenched by the Indian Monsoon and slopes of active Hawaiian volcanoes, to the tidal islands of the Bahamas and the frozen wastes of Ellesmere Island.

Airing in five parts, which aired this month in the MENA region and is streaming on BEIN Sports, the series explores the great forces of nature that support, drive and enable life on earth.

“Without volcanoes, for instance, we would have no breathable atmosphere, no oceans and no dry land,” series producer Huw Cordey said in a prerecorded interview. “Our weather distributes freshwater around the globe; ocean currents circulate essential nutrients, and energy from the sun powers our living world and is a vital ingredient for the most important chemical reaction on the planet – photosynthesis. For the last ten thousand years, these forces have provided warmth and stability.”

The first four episodes explore the power of volcanoes, sunlight, weather and oceans, respectively, getting up close and personal with some of the world’s most curious species – like the lesser flamingoes that nest at Lake Natron, on the slope of Tanzania’s Ol Donyo Lengai.

Despite being one of the world’s most corrosive bodies of water, a brief window of perfect conditions allows 2 million lesser flamingos to raise their chicks, protected from predators by a flesh-eating moat.

“That flamingo sequence is one of the most memorable I’ve seen on television,” Attenborough said. “Shot under extraordinarily difficult circumstances and it's impossible not to identify with these poor little chicks that have to make it from the middle of this appalling lake to the edge to get away. It’s been filmed so beautifully with the use of drones and is so skillful that the picture is so indelibly planted in the mind.”

The “Oceans” episode is a wonderful example of how everything in nature is interconnected, with single species unknowingly causing a ripple effect that allows live to flourish thousands of miles away.

The Cromwell Current, which brings nutrients and phytoplankton (fed by fish scales) across the globe to the Galapagos’ Fernandina Island, is a driving force behind the archipelago’s diverse wildlife.

Marine iguanas live there by the thousands, but are only able to thrive because cormorants use a certain type of seaweed for their nests there, which the iguanas eat.

Perfectly adapted to extreme living conditions, animals have learned to work symbiotically for a common goal. The episode features the first-time footage of Australia’s blacktip reef sharks and their cooperative predation with trevally, another fish species. Schools of trevally drive baitfish into the shallows and trap them there, allowing sharks to feed.

 

Each 45-minute episode of “A Perfect Planet” ends with a 15-mintue “making-of” doc with the camera crew, showing the hazardous conditions they brave to get the perfect shots. The series boasts many firsts and rarities in natural documentary filming. For example, more people have been to space than have descended into Fernandina’s crater, where land iguanas lay their eggs.

The final episode in the series looks at the dramatic impact of the world’s newest force of nature – humans. It highlights the devastating way humanity has unbalanced the planet, but also those who are fighting to restore it before it’s too late.

“The first thing I keep reminding myself of is that there are three times as many human beings on this plant as there where when I first made a television program,” Attenborough said in a prerecorded interview. “If we don’t sort out how we deal with the planet we’ll be in big trouble.

“Everybody understands that we’re at a crucial point and that our planet is poised close to big disasters,” he added. “We can stop them but if we’re going to we must understand what they are and how they work, and that’s what this series does.”

The final episode is heartbreaking to watch, showing the consequences of global warming: extreme droughts and floods, typhoons and forest fires.

Biologist Niall McCann, marine biologist Asha de Vos and economist/environmentalist Jeremy Rifkim join Attenborough on screen to explain the urgency of the planet and what some solutions are.

Other segments include fascinating interviews with members of the Tsavo East National Park elephant rescue, the Canarana Seed Project (which is replanting swathes of decimated Amazon forest), and a San Diego cryogenic zoo, preserving the DNA of endangered species before they go extinct.

These vignettes drive home the ingenuity and desperation compelling the struggle to save our perfect planet.

This article has been adapted from its original source.


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