Richard Branson reveals he stopped eating octopus after watching Oscar-nominated wildlife documentary

Exclusive: The billionaire businessman sat down for a virtual chat with Craig Foster, the naturalist and documentary-maker behind My Octopus Teacher which has been nominated for an Oscar and BAFTA

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Wednesday 24 March 2021 12:28 GMT
Richard Branson reveals he stopped eating octopus after watching documentary

Richard Branson has said that a wildlife documentary, nominated for this year’s Oscars, had such an impact on him that he changed his diet.

The billionaire businessman recently sat down for a virtual meeting with Craig Foster, the naturalist and documentary-maker behind My Octopus Teacher, in an interview shared first with The Independent.

The hit Netflix documentary, which also received a BAFTA nod, tells the story of Foster who began diving as a remedy for ill health in an underwater forest off the coast of South Africa where he developed an unlikely connection with an octopus.

His film gave a moving and extraordinary glimpse into the everyday life of a wild creature so rarely captured, particularly underwater.

Sir Richard, who co-founded the ocean conservation group Ocean Unite, described the film as a “gem”, saying it was “a wonderful message for all of us during so much uncertainty”.

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He added: “I can assure you that I’ve not eaten octopus since, and can’t see how anybody could ever eat octopus again after seeing it.”

My Octopus Teacher has been nominated for best documentary feature at the 93rd Academy Awards in April. Sir Richard asked Foster how he was coping with his new-found fame.

The film-maker described it as a “double-edged sword” but said that he appreciated the “incredible opportunity to talk about nature on a bigger level”, and be a voice for the wild.

He asked the Virgin group founder for his advice on being in the spotlight.

“There are occasional downsides but it’s a wonderful privilege to be in a position to campaign on issues we feel are really important,” said Branson, adding that being known globally allowed you to “cut straight through to the top”.

Oceans Unite is part of a global movement pushing to protect 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030. Branson noted that part of their strategy was to approach presidents or prime ministers who were leaving office and suggest that they create an ocean reserve to be remembered by rather than, for example, “the Iraq war or other things”.

Foster, who co-founded the Sea Change Project in his native South Africa, spoke with Branson about the devastating impact that the climate crisis and pollution are having on the ocean causing issues such as coral bleaching, loss of marine species and marine heatwaves.

He highlighted his foundation’s goal of protecting the newly-named “Great Africa Sea Forest” – 1,400km stretch of underwater plant life which stretches down the west coast of Africa, round the tip of the continent to the east coast.

“As soon as you name something, then people start to care about it. So we wanted to make it a global icon like the Serengeti or the Great Barrier Reef to protect it,” he said.

“The biodiversity in the forest is extraordinary and the biomass of animals in some places is 10 times that of the Serengeti,” he added, noting that it was the second most vulnerable ecosystem in the world only to coral reefs.

Foster told Branson that the aim of his work is to encourage people to reconnect with the natural world through films, books, and ideas.

“I believe that the greatest threat in some ways to our oceans and to our planet is the cooling of the human heart towards nature,” he said.

“That disconnection from the wild is so frightening because it allows people to do horrific things, many times without knowing.”

He said that “as soon as you have that connection, it’s very difficult to think about harming the environment. You’ll actively think of ways to do the opposite – to protect areas, reduce emissions, reduce pollution. All those things that are so desperately needed.”

He added: “But at the core, it is the emotion inside the human mind that is going to decide whether we as a species will survive or not.”

The interview can be viewed in full at a free-streaming platform dedicated to the natural world.

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