The latest episode of Blue Planet II pulled no punches when showcasing the frightful impact of plastic pollution on our embattled oceans. In the fourth instalment of the popular documentary series, entitled Big Blue, David Attenborough and the crew tugged at the heart-strings of a nation by featuring heart-wrenching and, quite frankly, rather disturbing, scenes of marine wildlife in a whole manner of awful predicaments. All brought about by our own ignorant devotion to plastics.
Among the scenes included, a frightful segment showing a Hawksbill Turtle ensnared by discarded refuse and, perhaps more poignant, a lengthy scene showing a mother pilot whale distraught and grieving at the loss of her new-born calf. Likely as a result of poisoning in the womb due to the bioaccumulation of damaging substances in the mother whale. These scenes, precursed by a clever segment using discarded rubber ducks to highlight just how far plastics that enter the ocean can spread, appear to have had a profound effect on many viewers. Something highlighted by the outpourings of Twitter users frustrated and angry over the matter.
Blue Planet 2 has thus far been watched by millions of people and, so far, has proven itself one of the most popular shows of 2017 to date. Doubtless then, it is safe to assume that many millions of people witnessed the awful scenes shown during last nights episode. Based on the coverage of the show in the mainstream press this morning, it is also safe to assume that many more people will feel inspired to tune in over the coming weeks and that, in doing so, many more still will hear the episodes woeful message. The question is, will these people act on it?
Documentaries of this kind have endured their fair share of criticism over the years: from conservationists claiming that they do not do enough for nature, and by other broadcasters unsure of their value. Indeed, whenever a series such as this airs, it is hard to miss the claims of rose-tinting and allegations centred on the filmmakers tendency to gloss over important issues in an effort to bolster viewing figures. I do not buy it. I have always been a fan of natural history documentaries and, personally, feel they play a huge role in inspiring and motivating people to enact positive change. They also build momentum. Something incredibly clear last night on social media.
Say what you will about Blue Planet and Attenborough, but last night I witnessed one of the most promising public outpourings on an environmental issue ever. We had Michael Gove, our environment secretary, promising positive change; we had celebrities sharing the damning message with their expansive fan-bases and, of course, we had countless environmental NGOs capitalising on the hype to further their own (positive) agendas. More importantly, we also had normal people, young and old, of the kind you meet at work, school or at the local grocers vocally and vigorously expressing their distaste. On this occasion, it was not just those positively inclined towards nature, those such as you and me, discussing the issue, it was everyone.
I am not naive enough to believe that everyone who watches Blue Planet II will act to reduce their impact on the natural world, nor to believe that each and every viewer will immediately halt their consumption of plastics. That would be foolish. I do, however, feel a considerable amount of hope that now, with the issue of marine litter brought to mainstream attention, that more will be done to rectify the issue. Many will feel obliged to act themselves in defence of our oceans – I will certainly be forgoing more plastics in my daily life – but, more importantly, an informed and angry public will now put pressure on politicians and companies alike to enact real and decisive change. God knows we need it. And fast.
Did Blue Planet 2 just achieve what conservationists have been aspiring to for years? Yes, I think it did. Though now, this anger must be turned into action.