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The Blue Planet II Effect

Ride along the waves of impact following David Attenborough’s latest documentary series

By Anna Pitts

 In recent years, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of TV programmes focusing on conservation and the natural world; one of the most noteworthy of these shows in 2017 being Blue Planet 2, which received an average audience of 10.9 million per episode. However arguably the greatest success of Blue Planet 2 is not the stunning cinematography, nor the high viewing numbers, but instead the impact of the show on its audience's consciousness.

Hosted by the legendary presenter, Sir David Attenborough, it is perhaps not surprising that Blue Planet 2 has achieved such success among viewers. Blue Planet 2 took viewers on a breath-taking journey to explore the world’s oceans, weaving scientific understanding with storytelling to engage new audiences and defy the preconception that you need to be knowledgeable about science to have an interest in conservation. The show goes one step further than other wildlife documentaries to tackle political issues head on, and explicitly challenge perspectives relating to conservation and the impact humans, as a global society, have on the planet.

One of the stand-out topics that the Blue Planet 2 team focused on was the impact of plastic waste on ocean wildlife. The significance of plastic pollution in oceanic environments cannot be overlooked, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste enters the ocean every year; by 2050, scientists have predicted there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. The creators of the show highlighted the issue in various ways from seabirds mistaking tiny pieces of plastic for food to the shocking extent of the presence of microplastics in marine organisms. Microplastics consist of polyethylene and polyester which are present in plastic shopping bags and clothing, and as demonstrated in Blue Planet 2 can prove fatal for marine wildlife.

Attenborough ended the final episode of the series with this poignant message: “Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about that. Surely, we all have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity and indeed all life on earth now depends on us.” By TV companies making scientific shows about the importance of conservation part of mainstream viewing, this has already began to have an impact on various areas in society, particularly regarding tackling plastic waste.

In recent months, more businesses have been considering their environmental impact and reflecting the growing interest of their clientele in reducing their plastic waste. This can be seen with: major coffee chains giving discounted prices for customers using reusable cups, cafes offering free refills of water bottles, pubs using biodegradable straw alternatives, cosmetic brands creating packaging-free products and even Iceland aiming to be the first major supermarket chain to be plastic-free by 2023. Moreover, the issue of damaging microplastics has received further recognition in politics courtesy of Blue Planet 2. The current UK Government has been discussing the show in debates, pledging to ban the manufacture of microbeads and proposing plastic-free supermarket aisles as part of a 25-year environmental plan.

Further evidence of the influence of Blue Planet 2 can be seen with the show winning the ‘Impact’ Trophy at the National Television Awards. Yet even if TV shows like Blue Planet 2 simply promote discussion by making audiences think deeper about their impact on the environment, and thus putting pressure on businesses and the government to do the same, then their importance in driving forward conservation cannot be dismissed.

From Issue 15

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