The leg­endary nat­u­ral­ist on the im­por­tant mes­sage in Blue Planet II

Daily Mail Weekend Magazine - - YOUR TV WEEK -

The oceans have un­der­gone great changes in my life­time. Blue Planet II, the un­der­wa­ter nat­u­ral his­tory se­ries which be­gins to­mor­row on BBC1, cel­e­brates and mar­vels at the di­ver­sity of life be­low the waves. But it can­not ig­nore the ter­ri­ble dam­age that is be­ing done to our seas, and the ap­palling con­se­quences to us all if this dam­age is left unchecked.

For years we thought that the oceans were so vast and their in­hab­i­tants so nu­mer­ous that noth­ing we could do would have an ef­fect upon them. Now we know that was wrong. The oceans are un­der threat as never be­fore in our his­tory, from many things. One is a rise in tem­per­a­tures: ac­cord­ing to the World Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Or­ga­ni­za­tion, us­ing data col­lected from 80 na­tional weather ser­vices, 2016 was the hottest year on record.

In the last pro­gramme in the se­ries, Our Blue Planet, to be screened in De­cem­ber, we il­lus­trate what hap­pens when the tem­per­a­ture goes up by 1.5ºC. In the last three years over two-thirds of the ocean’s co­ral reefs are thought to have suf­fered from rises in ocean tem­per­a­tures.

An­other se­ri­ous risk is plas­tic. Ev­ery year some eight mil­lion tonnes of it ends up in the ocean, where it can be lethal. While film­ing Blue Planet II crews found plas­tic in ev­ery ocean, even in the most re­mote lo­ca­tions, such as on the shores of South Ge­or­gia near Antarc­tica. This is a prob­lem we could tackle, right now, and I wish we would.

I hope that the spec­tac­u­lar pic­tures and sto­ries in Blue Planet II will en­cour­age viewers to un­der­stand why th­ese small tragedies are so im­por­tant. We are all de­pen­dent on our oceans. If one species is in dan­ger, it could be that we all are.

Take shell­fish, which are af­fected by in­creased acid­ity in sea­wa­ter. As we re­searched the show, we learned that shells col­lected by Na­tive Amer­i­cans 1,000 years ago, and which to­day are in mu­se­ums, are about 28 per cent thicker than mod­ern shells. Acid oceans have a dis­as­trous ef­fect on an­i­mals with shells, from mus­sels to tur­tles.

We can turn things round. We’ve done so once be­fore. For cen­turies the sea-go­ing na­tions of the world hunted the great whales un­til they were close to ex­tinc­tion. And then in 1986 those na­tions got to­gether and agreed to put a stop to it. Now, some of the whales are mak­ing a re­cov­ery.

We are at a unique stage in our his­tory. Never be­fore have we had such an aware­ness of what we’re do­ing to our planet – but never be­fore have we had the power to do some­thing about it. Surely we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to care for our blue planet. The fu­ture of hu­man­ity and, in­deed, all life on Earth, de­pends on us.

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