In the United Kingdom huge audiences have been entranced by the David Attenborough's magnificent new BBC series – Blue Planet 2.
They have been filled with a sense of awe and care for the ocean that hasn't been experienced since the first Blue Planet series aired 16 years ago. And I’m not surprised – it’s truly wondrous to think about the amazing life-forms below the waves.
When I talk with colleagues, friends, ocean scientists and conservation veterans, they are all equally intrigued and delighted by little limpets and seals herding tunas, as they are by young dolphins, surfing and playing with corals and shells. They are also heartbroken, as their eyes are opened to the negative impacts of human activity on ocean life all around the world.
Here in the US, we are still waiting for the series to air (apparently, this will happen in early 2018). Given President Trump’s announcements earlier this week to significantly slash the size of some of America’s existing national monuments and his apparent plans guided by a misguided Secretary of the Interior to cut more – including allowing commercial fishing in at least three marine national monuments (the very activity that had been destroying the marine life within them before they were declared) – the sooner Blue Planet 2 gets here, the better.
The idea of protecting national lands and seas has been part of the greatest legacy of great leaders around the world.
President Trump is busy discarding the interests of future generations, the heritage and culture of indigenous peoples (from whom we can all learn), and those of everyday Americans and visitors from around the world wanting to do nothing more than enjoy the great outdoors. His decision this week means that an area several times the size of Yosemite National Park could soon be lost to mining, drilling and logging. Native American sacred sites, natural wonders, and places that are currently open for hunting, fishing, hiking and outdoor recreation, are at risk of being permanently lost to energy extraction, mining, and private development.
He and his Interior Secretary are reviewing the designation of national monuments on land and at sea by Republican and Democratic President’s that have made these decisions before them. The US National Monuments are some of the most long-lasting legacies of US leaders, and the idea of protecting national lands and seas has been part of the greatest legacy of great leaders around the world.
Meanwhile, everywhere else, leaders are continuing to stake their legacies on safeguarding natural heritage for future generations – and going further than many have before.
The Mexican president recently fully protected an incredible swath of Mexico’s waters declaring the Revillagigdo islands and surrounding waters protected. Chile’s President Bachelet just yesterday received the UN Environment’s ‘Champions of the Earth Award’ for protecting over one million km2 of her country’s waters.
In the UK, the designation of the waters of the Pitcairn islands in September 2016 has been followed by a huge campaign led by a coalition of groups called, #BackTheBlueBelt, to see the UK undertake arguably the greatest single act of marine conservation ever by one country: to protect four million square kilometers of ocean in a "Blue Belt" around British Overseas Territories by 2020. That’s an area the size of India! Spend a bit of time at www.greatbritishoceans.org to learn more. The organisations involved include, Greenpeace, Marine Conservation Society, RSPB, ZSL, The Pew Trusts and Blue Marine Foundation.
Meanwhile out in the Pacific, ocean hero, President Tommy Remengesau of Palau (with leaders in this tiny island nation in the West Pacific), this week announced that they’re welcoming tourists to the archipelago by asking them to sign the first-ever eco-initiative – requesting all inbound visitors make a compulsory promise, directly to the children of Palau: to help preserve their home before they can enter the country. You can sign the pledge at PalauPledge.com after December 7th or film yourself taking the pledge to camera.
There is a Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” It couldn’t be truer. Given the strains that we have all put our planet under, shouldn't we be doing all we can to plant trees that will shade future generations? Shouldn't we all be following the example of leaders like President’s Remengesau, Bachelet and Peña Nieto? Leaders who are determined to protect and nurture our natural world so that we can continue to be amazed and surprised by it – thrilled to learn every single day about its diversity and beauty?
I am sure David Attenborough would encourage everyone to watch Blue Planet 2 in the hope that they would realise that planting and protecting trees on land and protecting the brilliant species that inhabit our seas, is the type of legacy they should be leaving.