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Out of the Blue – and into a green revolution.

ERA’s Molly Windust looks at the environmental impact of an iconic TV programme

Water filled with plastic pollution

Last week marked 6 months since the release of Blue Planet 2, the most watched TV programme of 2017, produced by Britain’s much-loved David Attenborough.  We expected some weird and wacky creatures and perhaps some funny shots of the presenters making friends with sea life however, the impact from this broadcast has gone further than most people’s living rooms, bringing about social, political and educational change.

There was of course excitement generated from footage of fish eating birds in mid-air, bio-luminescent plankton creating a light show in the darkest depths of the ocean and sex changing fish . However, what seemed to stick with us most were the images shown in the final episode, which drew the nation’s attention to the danger our oceans are in due to the mass dumping of plastic.

Viewers watched whilst plastic pollution killed a whale calf, mother dolphins exposed new-born calves to pollutants through their contaminated milk and finally albatross parents accidentally fed their chicks pieces of plastic. Later it was revealed some of the albatross chicks died, and this was deemed too upsetting to broadcast.

On June 23rd 2018 David Attenborough presented “The Clean Up” a short clip congratulating the huge numbers of people who, having been moved by the footage of fish entangled in plastic bags, have made large efforts to reduce their consumption of single use plastic. It is incredible to see how a TV show has prompted such a large and active response to one of the biggest issues we are facing today.

And what a response! Online, across Twitter and Instagram, viewers began the hashtag #twominutebeachclean encouraging people, when visiting a beach, to collect as much washed up plastic as they can in two minutes. In the education sector Pendeen school in Devon has become the first plastic free school in the UK, introducing reusable bottles and non-plastic straws. Furthermore, in March, one in four nurseries wanted to ban glitter from classrooms due to its damage to marine life.

Blue Planet2’s impact spread internationally with an initiative called “Blue Planet Plan” within a company “Eleme” in China. They began a pledge against single use plastic chopsticks by designing edible, biodegradable chopsticks which come in many different flavours (including green tea!)

Back in the UK the series also had an effect politically. Environment Secretary Michael Gove said he was “haunted” by the programme and recently every major UK supermarket pledged to ban single use plastics by 2025. Large companies such as Coca-Cola have signed the “plastic pledge” stating by 2025 all their plastic packaging will be able to be reused, recycled or composted.

As of today, 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans every year: the equivalent of one truckload of plastic every minute. It seems as if the world is finally becoming aware of the threat our unsustainable lifestyles have on the oceans and programmes such as Blue Planet 2 are to thank for waking up a nation and encouraging change.

“We are at a unique stage in our history,” David Attenborough said in the final episode “Never before have we had such an awareness of what we’re doing to the planet. And never before have we had the power to do something about it.”

If you are wondering how you can help have a look at BBC’s Plastic watch which gives some helpful day to day tips on how to reduce your plastic waste.