OUR PLANET: The statistics, the scenery, the science


Like many people across the globe, we’re totally excited about Netflix’s series, Our Planet. While we’ve watched many documentaries and nature programs in our time, Our Planet – a collaboration between Netflix, WWF, Silverback Films – is particularly beautiful and especially groundbreaking. Every frame is truly a visual feast.

This series will celebrate the natural wonders that remain and reveal what we must preserve so that people and nature thrive” is both the opening and closing statement of the series — and it sums it up perfectly. In the most wonderful way, Our Planet combines astounding footage, a brilliant script, sound scientific research, sobering conservation statistics, hard facts, the iconic narration of Sir David Attenborough, and a magnificent musical score.

One of the most salient messages Our Planet brings across is the interdependence and interconnectedness of all life on earth. It’s only through acknowledging this interconnectedness that we can bring a sense of urgency to the issues of sustainability, conservation, climate change, habitat protection, and humanity’s ecological footprint.

While the concept of interdependence is fully understood by some people, the WWF’s Press Release on Our Planet revealed rather alarming statistics that stem from a recent survey: only 49% of people across 10 of the world’s most biodiverse countries are convinced that biodiversity is in decline, and only 39% realise that we depend on nature and biodiversity for key elements of life, such as food, water and clean air.

Despite sobering conservation statistics, Our Planet remains optimistic. Not only does it showcase a myriad of miracles in nature, but it also illustrates instances where conscious efforts and policy-making have led to positive changes.

Each episode explores a different biome. From Frozen Worlds, Jungles and Coastal Seas to High Seas, Fresh Water, Forests and Deserts and Grasslands, viewers are given insight into environments and species that are vulnerable – but also resilient, when given the opportunity to bounce back.

In addition to the theme of interdependence, other themes that come through in Our Planet are climate change, the impact of agriculture and of damming rivers, habitat loss, the scarcity of fresh water, and unsustainable commercial fishing.

How did they film Our Planet?

Honestly, this was probably the most frequent question we asked when watching the series. The answer would be: through blood, sweat, tears, swamps, rashes, bugs, boredom, patience, freezing cold, searing heat, deep waters and bite-proof chain mail dive suits.

Our Planet is the culmination of four years, 3375 filming days, 60 countries, 400 000 hours of camera trap monitoring, 6600 drone flights, 911 days at sea, 2000 hours of diving, 600 crew and 200 filming trips.

The expertise, bravery, dedication and passion that brought this series to fruition reflects the same interconnectedness that is so very essential to the world we live in. Whatever you do, make sure you watch the final Behind the Scenes episode. It will blow. Your. Mind.

The Statistics in Our Planet. Plain and simple.

While Our Planet is most certainly a celebration, the raw statistics shed light on the instability of nature in the face of disruption and destruction by humans. There’s a tension at play. While nature is resilient, it’s simultaneously fragile, and therefore needs our help to thrive, so that all life may benefit.

These facts and figures made us sit up and say “Que?! What on Earth are we doing?”

  • Since the first man landed on the moon, the human population has more than doubled.
  • In 50 years, global wildlife populations have on average declined by 60%.
  • In the last 20 years, Caribou herds have lost 70% of their numbers.
  • In the last 50 years, krill stocks have more than halved due to global warming. Because krill is the primary diet for Humpback whales, the species is under pressure.
  • Today, during summer, there is 40% less sea ice than in 1980.
  • In recent years, the breeding population of the Wandering Albatross, found on the Island of South Georgia, has declined by 40 % due to many of them dying on long-line fishing lines.
  • In the last 20 years, half the population of the critically endangered Lowland Gorillas have been poached for bush meat.
  • In the last 50 years, Borneo has lost over half its jungle.
  • We have replaced 27 million hectares (i.e. an area larger than the country of New Zealand) of virgin jungle with oil palm crops, which only support a fraction of the diversity that primary rainforests do. Oil Palm plantations also don’t have the same capacity as rainforests to absorb carbon dioxide and cool the planet.
  • 100 Orangutans are lost every week due to human activity and disruption.
  • The jungle in Sumatra is home to the critically endangered Orangutan. Because it takes a baby orangutan 10 ears to reach independence, loss of habitat results in loss of a “classroom”, where young orangutans should be learning skills from their mother.
  • In the last 40 years, the lowland jungle – which is habitat to the orangutan – has declined by 75%.
  • The Philippines has lost 90% of their primary rainforest.
  • Only 400 pairs of the rarest bird of prey – the Philippines Eagle – remain. Because they tend to breed when they are around 10 years old – a consistent habitat is crucial for their survival.
  • Globally, 15 million hectares (i.e. an area larger than the country of Greece) of tropical rainforest are lost every year. This results in diminished diversity of species, a reduction in the absorption of carbon dioxide, and a reduced ability to cool the earth.
  • Over-fishing has reduced shark populations globally by over 90%.
  • During 2016 and 2017, over 1000km of the Great Barrier Reef bleached.
  • World-wide, half of all shallow coral reefs have died off.
  • A third of all fish stocks have collapsed due to unsustainable, industrial over-fishing. This has led to jelly fish dominance in certain areas – which provide little sustenance for other wildlife or humans.
  • 100 million sharks are killed every year for shark fin soup.
  • 90% of all large ocean hunters have disappeared.
  • Pacific Salmon number less than 1% of the numbers previously recorded.
  • Great Redwood trees used to grow throughout the Pacific North West but now, only 5% of them remain.
  • Critically endangered, less than 200 Arabian Leopards are left in the wild.
  • Less than 150 Desert Elephants survive in Namibia, and only 20 matriarchs – who are crucial for passing down knowledge through generations – survive.
  • Only 3% of Madagascar’s Dry Forest remains.
  • World-wide, humans have destroyed over half of the forests that once flourished.
  • A third of Madagascar’s Fossa’s have disappeared in the last 20 years due to a diminishing forest and therefore loss of habitat.
  • In the last 100 years, the number of wild Tigers declined by over 95%.
  • There are less than 600 Siberian Tigers left.
  • Less than 30 000 wild Bison remain and 90% of the prairie – which is their natural habitat – is now farmlands. 180 years ago, Bison herds numbered in the millions in North America and these grasslands were 100 times larger than the Serengeti.
  • There were once more than 300 000 Blue Whales. In the last 100 years, they have been reduced to a few thousand. Current numbers lie at between 10 000 – 25 000.

The main reasons cited for the decrease in numbers of species are habitat loss, poaching, human-animal conflict, and unsustainable fishing practices.

All the statistics above are gleaned from Our Planet, and though many can be cross- referenced across the Internet, having them all appear in one point of reference is a HUGE wake-up call.

To find out more about which species are threatened and endangered, you can visit the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Better together

As stand-alone facts, statistics can seem a little bland. However, when placed within the context of symbiotic relationships, we can fully understand the importance of each and every biome and all species that live within these habitats. Told from the perspective of astronauts, National Geographic’s series One Strange Rock also underscores the absolute connectedness of all life and systems on earth.

Like cogs in a time-piece, every element plays its role perfectly and all parts can only function when they work together. Like the way the male Orchid Bee gets perfume from an orchid, and the orchid in turn gets its pollen sacks delivered by the bee. Like the way that Humpback whales and penguins work together to feed, and the way that whales bubblenet in concert, and how when they dive, the overspill is not lost, but rather collected by another.

We can only marvel at how, when the underbelly of the sea ice receives rays of sun, it gives life to algae, which in turn provides food for krill, which provides food for whales and other sea life. And though we already love elephants and gorillas, knowing that they are essential to the health of jungles as primary seed dispersers makes us love them even more.

From the small Mountain Treeshrew who licks the sugary lids of pitcher plants, and in turn produces nitrates in their scat which is essential for the pitcher plant, to the enormous bodies of water of the Mbeli bai of the Congo that provide minerals and salts in their aquatic plants that are essential to the Lowland Gorilla’s diet – we’re reminded of how stability and balance is essential.

Our Planet beautifully demonstrates the synergy between animals and their habitat when they reveal how the health of a coral reef is maintained by all their inhabitants. And how sharks are crucial in maintaining reefs as they keep the population of grazers – who “prune” the coral reef – in check.

Similarly, we can see this play out in footage taken off the Coast of California where sea otters feast on sea urchins. The otter’s diet of urchins is crucial for the health of kelp forests – because the urchins graze on the kelp and if left unchecked, urchins will become dominant and decimate the kelp which is needed to sustain other marine life.

Hope lies with humans

In its most ideal state, nature has the ability to both self-regulate and self-correct. Although humans are responsible for the disruption of Earth’s equilibrium, we can also play a part in re-establishing the natural order of things.

There are many instances where individuals and groups have taken up a cause, rallied together and made meaningful changes. These stories of triumph from Our Planet give us both hope and direction.

As a result of public outcry, a ban on commercial whaling by international agreement was instituted in the mid 1980’s. Since the global ban on whale hunting, Humpback and Blue whale numbers have increased. Humpback whales have almost returned to their original numbers and there are now around 100 000 left.

Since becoming a fully protected “No-Take zone” in 2005, the Misool Marine Reserve in the Raja Ampat Islands in South East Asia has twenty-five times more sharks than 10 years ago. In addition, biodiversity is increasing, and local fishermen benefit from the overspill.

50 years ago, colonies of sea birds on the Pacific coast of South America disappeared as a result of overfishing. Fishing controls were introduced, fish stocks increased, and cormorant colonies thrive once again. The Pacific coast of South America now teams with seabirds.

The Arabian Oryx was once hunted to extinction in the wild. With the help of dedicated conservationists, successful captive breeding and re-introduction, the Arabian Oryx have reclaimed their territory and are now listed vulnerable, rather than critically endangered.

50 years ago, Przewalski’s horses in Mongolia were extinct in the wild. Breeding from just 12 horses in captivity, their numbers slowly increased and they were re-introduced into the wild. Przewalski’s horses now number in excess of 300. The recovery of this species can, in part, be attributed to limited human exposure, as the Mongolian Steppes that these horses call home remains mostly untouched.

Despite being once nearly extinct, Tiger population numbers in India are increasing. This is due to conscious conservation efforts.

The Siberian or Amur Tiger was once nearly poached to extinction. Since making tiger hunting illegal the 1980’s, their numbers have slowly increased. Illegal hunting is, however, still a threat.

With the help of conservationists who manage the Platte River region in Nebraska, Sandhill Cranes once again have access to the sandbanks they need for feeding and resting.

Chernobyl was once all but obliterated due to a nuclear reactor exploding in 1986. All humans were evacuated and the remaining animals were killed off to limit the spread of radiation. The exclusion zone was declared uninhabitable for the next 20 thousand years. Despite the ravages of radiation, this natural landscape is steadily recovering. Forests have reclaimed the built-landscape, and animals such as foxes, raccoons, bison, Przewalski’s horses, wolves, racoons, raptors and roe deer have returned to this uninhabited region. Within 20 years, science has recorded animal populations similar to the wilds of Europe, and there are now seven times more wolves in the exclusion zone than outside it.

The Serengeti has been protected for over 65 years – which is why it’s able to sustain herds of over a million wildebeest and many other species.

By putting “kind” back into humankind, we can restore both animal populations and health of their habitats.

Climate change denialists: Say what?

If you Google “Our Planet” you’ll find a wealth of excellent articles. However, you’ll also inevitably stumble across content that’s touted by climate change denialists. Our answer to them is simply: If you don’t know for sure, are you willing to take the chance, considering what’s at stake?

We could back up the climate change theory with some of the facts mentioned in Our Planet. Like how in 70 years, changes in the polar regions have caused them to warm faster than any other part of the planet, causing sea ice to disappear. The relevance of this is that not only are the ice caps a vital cooling system for the earth, but the sea ice also enables a way of life for many sea animals, including polar bears. Sea ice is breaking up earlier in the season, resulting in a shorter hunting season for polar bears. Accordingly, the bear cubs are underweight as they have reduced access to food. (P.S. For phenomenal photojournalism and stills of polar bears and Svalbard, follow Daisy Gilardini on Instagram).

We might also cite the footage taken of over 100 000 walruses in the far North Eastern Coast of Russia – the largest gathering on the planet – as a sober reminder of the importance of sea ice. Designed to rest and feed from the fast-disappearing sea ice, the walrus are now forced to take to the rocky shores. Overcrowding and their inability to navigate this rocky, mountainous terrain results in many walruses dying or becoming injured.  In short, there aren’t too many walruses, there is too little sea ice.

Or, we could point out that climate change has resulted in warmer, more acidic seas, which has resulted in coral reefs bleaching. Bleaching occurs when coral is starved. And when coral dies, so do all the fish and species that live within the coral reef.

What can you do to save our planet?

That 100 million sharks are killed for their fins to be used in shark fin soup is indicative of the frivolity and mindless practices of humans.

There’s an adage that says “Enough is as good as a feast” – and by acting on this we are fostering a culture of sustainability. There is dignity in living within your available resources.

Our Planet and WWF suggests 5 easy steps:

  1. Make your diet as plant-based as possible.
  2. Shop for sustainable fish and meat.
  3. Switch to a clean energy
  4. Choose deforestation-free palm oil products.
  5. Buy wood and paper products from well managed forests.

From these solutions, we can see that reducing loss of habitat is key to the survival of all species. And by turning a third of all our coastal seas into Protected Areas, introducing and enforcing sustainable fishing policies, we can help fish stocks recover.

Writer, political and environmental activist George Monbiot, also suggests that by putting a cap on capitalism we can live more sustainably. A staunch proponent of rewilding, Monbiot also supports switching to a plant-based diet, abandoning fossil fuels and flying less.

Take action. Add your voice. Donate. Volunteer. Protest. Boycott. Create a public outcry.

Rewild. Rebalance. Recover. And set a precedent that recognizes the value of all life on our planet.

Find out more about how you can save our earth by visiting Our Planet. You’ll also find excellent educational resources and behind the scenes footage.

With sincere thanks to the teams from Our Planet, WWF and Silverback Films for your research, interesting statistics, fascinating facts, and especially your ongoing dedication and passion. Big thanks to Karen Richards and the WWF UK team for your willingness to share resources and information – it’s sincerely appreciated.

Remember to follow Our Planet on Facebook, Twitter and especially Instagram. Their stills and videos are brilliant and the captions are totally quirky and cute. Follow WWF on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to keep abreast with their work.



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