Karen Sack – A couple of days ago it was my huge pleasure to speak at the annual Chatham House Prize ceremony in London and congratulate this year’s winners – Sir David Attenborough and the BBC Studios Natural History Unit – in person.
They were recognised for creating the global phenomenon of Blue Planet II and galvanising the public on a truly oceanic scale. The Chatham House Prize is an annual award presented to “the statesperson or organisation deemed by Chatham House members to have made the most significant contribution to the improvement of international relations in the previous year”.
Seen by one in ten people on Earth, the Blue Planet II effect has been electrifying. After watching an Albatross chick being fed with pieces of plastic – and other harrowing, mesmerising images – an incredible 88 per cent of viewers changed their lifestyles.
The ocean plastic crisis has captured the public imagination, sparking new laws, regulations and technologies to fight single-use plastics in countries and cities around the world. But the mobilisation against plastic is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s needed. It must be a gateway to action on the even more pernicious crises facing the ocean, not an endpoint.
The recent IPCC report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate tells an almost dystopian tale of marine heatwaves, rising seas, dying corals and vanishing ice. The natural world we see on the news resembles war zones: raging fires, floods and storms; a million species threatened with extinction; starving polar bears prowling through villages; toxic algal blooms, coral bleaching and oil spills.
Nature is angry – and it’s not alone. Teenagers are angry too. If Sir David is one of the visionary elders of our time, then Greta Thunberg and the global youth movement are the rise-up generation that’s not going to take the apathy of the powers that be lying down anymore. And rightly so.
The Ocean is rising and so must we. 2020 could be the biggest year yet for marine protection yet, with multiple opportunities to channel the momentum of Blue Planet II and deliver clear, hopeful, regenerative outcomes – but only if critical, bold decisions are made.
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