In deep water: Securing the future of our blue planet

Blue Planet II has taken us on a collective voyage of discovery from the deepest crevasses of the sea floor to the poles of the planet, providing a fascinating insight into life above and below the water.

We witnessed love and loss, teamwork and competition, rest and play; dazzling underwater scenes illuminated how life under the sea isn’t always that different from on land, as well as highlighting the deeply intertwined nature of our coexistence on this planet.

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A number of scenes left lasting impressions on the millions of viewers tuning in each Sunday. We watched in awe as the octopus and grouper fish skilfully coordinated to catch food. We felt the desperation of the hawksbill turtle tangled in a plastic sack, struggling for freedom. We shared the grief of the mourning pilot whale mother carrying her dead new-born calf, refusing to let go.

Blue Planet II offered a much-needed reminder of our powerful connections to the ocean. The sea provides us with oxygen and food vital for human life, acts as an enormous carbon sink and generates income for billions of people across the world. Yet our relationship with the ocean is, for the most part, a one-sided and exploitative one.

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Dolphin caught in plastic bag (c) Globice

Take for instance the impact that the spiralling production of single-use plastics, manufactured to be used once and almost instantly discarded, is having on the sea life. Over 800 species are known to have ingested or been entangled in marine litter and over 90 per cent of items encountered are plastic. Each year, eight million tonnes of plastics enter the world’s oceans from land – a figure that could quadruple by 2050 if no action is taken.

Other human impacts are less visible but just as deadly. In the past 200 years, sea waters have become 30 per cent more acidic due to spiralling levels of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere. More than 90 per cent of all the heat humans have added to the planet since the 1950s has been absorbed by the oceans. The consequences of unmitigated climate change will be nothing short of apocalyptic: coral reefs support a quarter of all marine species but global warming is expected to bleach more than 90 per cent of the world’s reefs by 2050.

Gillnets are the primary cause of vaquita mortality in the upper gulf of california, Mexico (c) Chris Johnson

Gillnets are the primary cause of vaquita mortality in the upper gulf of california, Mexico (c) Chris Johnson

Plastic pollution and climate change are just two man-made problems on a long list of injuries inflicted on marine environments, which also include overfishing, chemical contamination, oil spills, destructive fishing methods and unsustainable coastal development. Some of these problems need international solutions, with governments and corporations taking responsibility for the problems that years of harmful policies and practices have resulted in; for example, EIA is advocating for a global plastics convention that will reduce plastic production and consumption and eliminate single use plastics and marine plastic pollution.

Reversing current trends in greenhouse gases will require keeping more than 80 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, with businesses also clamping down on other major sources such as powerful HFCs found in air-conditioners.

Great Barrier Reef (c) Richard Ling

Great Barrier Reef (c) Richard Ling

But we can’t afford to wait around for governments to act. There are small changes we can all make in our daily lives that could collectively have enormous impacts, if each of the 10.8 million viewers of Blue Planet II took action. There’s been an 80 per cent reduction in plastic bag use since the introduction of the 5p charge in England and it’s not so hard to imagine reducing our use of plastic bottles, cups and straws by a similar percentage.

Swapping pre-packaged fruit and veg for loose is another easy way to reduce your plastic footprint. Eating less meat and dairy can substantially decrease greenhouse gas emissions, as can switching to a renewable energy supplier and ensuring your savings are invested in an eco-friendly bank account or pension fund.

Blue Planet II has bought to life the wonders of the ocean and the unprecedented threats it now faces. While the series may be over, the battle to save our seas is only just beginning. Now we’ve seen what’s at stake, let’s commit to a change in the tide.

 
Juliet PhilipsJuliet Phillips
Ocean Campaigner