As Blue Planet II draws to a close, it has once again left viewers in awe of the marine world.
The final episode of the series – “Our Blue Planet” – focuses on the terrible impact that human society is having on the world’s oceans, from coral bleaching to albatrosses feeding their chicks plastic.
But it also has a message of hope. Though many of the environmental problems seem insurmountable, we as individuals can take action to help save our blue planet.
“Blue Planet brought the marvels of the oceans to people’s living rooms. But it also showed clearly the risks which threaten them,” said Dr Lyndsey Dodds, head of marine policy at WWF.
Perhaps the issue that has touched viewers most is ocean plastic pollution, which is accumulating in vast quantities and being eaten by animals.
This is an issue where people can take action and make a difference, according to Dr Dodds.
In terms of lifestyle, the most obvious changes are avoiding single-use plastics and ensuring we recycle effectively.
At the other end of the scale, Dr Dodds emphasised the importance of lobbying the Government and businesses.
This includes supporting the planned bottle deposit return scheme, and a possible tax on single-use plastic.
Last year, a 40 per cent drop in plastic bags found on beaches was linked to the 5p charge on bags in supermarkets, suggesting this kind of action has real-world positive outcomes.
“Obviously it’s the Treasury that will make the decision on [the plastic tax] but the more the public can get behind things like that, the more acceptable they will be,” she said.
Such a tax was floated by Chancellor Philip Hammond in his recent Budget speech, in which he also alluded to the impact of Blue Planet II and announced he wanted the UK to become “a world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic”.
“I think that was probably about the most positively received thing in the Budget, so I think they recognise it is capturing the public interest,” said Dr Dodds.
Another key way in which people can change how they impact marine ecosystems is through their dietary choices.
“We are not powerless,” said Toby Middleton, UK programme director at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). “We can all play our part by choosing to eat sustainably caught seafood.”
“We are really trying to get supermarkets and restaurants not to sell fish that we consider to be unsustainable, so people can make choices about the seafood they choose to eat, if they choose to eat it at all” agreed Richard Harrington, a marine biologist and head of communications at the Marine Conservation Society.
MSC provide labels to seafood products that they have verified as coming from sustainable fisheries.
“You don’t need to be a marine biologist to choose sustainable fish,” said Mr Middleton.
“Looking for the MSC label when you’re shopping or eating out gives you the assurance that where your fish comes from has been independently certified as sustainable and is fully traceable,” he said.
The threats to marine ecosystems are multifarious, and one of the best ways to shield them from harm is to establish official marine protected areas.
Human activities such as fishing and extraction of natural resources are restricted in these areas, allowing life there to flourish and even spill out into surrounding, non-protected regions.
“The UK has a wonderful array of marine life, and there aren’t all that many places where sea bed habitats and fisheries are well protected,” said Mr Harrington.
Environmentalists in the UK have pushed for the extension of the “Blue Belt”, a network of marine protected areas that will maximise the protection given to the nation’s marine ecosystems.
“There has been a process to get marine protected areas around our shores, which is quite definitely being slowed down by other government matters such as Brexit,” said Mr Harrington.
Again, the more the public understands and cares about these issues the more they will move up the political agenda.
Issues like climate change and ocean acidification seem so enormous that it’s difficult to see how we can have any real impact.
But the message coming from environmental groups and experts is the same as that espoused in Blue Planet II.
“Businesses and governments need to act, but so do all of us,” said Dr Dodds.
“The blue planet is something we can all enjoy, but we need to act now to make sure that some of the incredible wildlife seen in the show doesn’t become history.”
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