Thursday, September 3, 2015

Earth: A New Wild: “Oceans” (PBS, 2014)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After “Bigger than T. rex” PBS showed another program that was considerably less interesting, an episode of the series Earth: The New Wild called “Oceans” which had a compelling premise — about the work of various scientists who are trying to figure out ways to counteract the awful impact humans have had on the oceans through overfishing, coastal development, global warming (the use of those two words indicated that David H. Koch had had nothing to do with sponsoring this program! Phrases like “global warming” and “climate change,” especially preceded by the words “human-caused,” are strictly verboten from any politicians, professors or programs the Koch brothers sponsor) and the increasing pollution of the seas, all of which are creating what the program’s most compelling participant, oceanographer Dr. Jeremy Jackson, calls a “rise of slime.” Dr. Jackson is first seen from the back, showing off a head of very long, naturally curly red hair that hangs down past his shoulders. When he turns around and we see his face, we find him pretty venerable and rather homely, but he’s still a fascinating character as he marshals various bits of evidence — including photos of sport fishermen from his native Florida posing with their catches, which from 1910 through to the present become progressively less numerous and also smaller. The conclusion is that humans are catching so many fish that many species have been unable to sustain themselves and are either dying off or their populations are so reduced that they aren’t able to perform their usual function of “filtering” the water to get rid of the bacteria that are now growing uncontrollably in the deep and largely creating that “rise of slime.” The show goes into various attempts of other people to counteract these trends, ranging from putting electronic tags on tuna and other overfished predator species to find out where they mate (the idea, obviously, is if they can chart the places fish go to reproduce and keep fishermen and fishing boats out of those areas, the fish populations will recover and the fishing industry will benefit in the long run) to creating an artificial coral reef (including protecting the fish who crap on the reefs, thereby providing an important source of fertilizer for the coral), midwiving lemon sharks (we get several quite explicit shots of female sharks giving birth) so the sharks that inhabit the Florida swamps can be steered into the proper places for them to grow up unmolested by other predators), creating fish hatcheries in mid-ocean (they look like giant geodesic domes) so fish populations can be sustained, and even restoring a part of highly developed coastline off New York City to bring back its natural population of oysters, who filter out a lot of undersea bacteria. Dr. Jackson sadly concludes towards the end that we’ll never be able to restore the ocean to what it was, but all the measures described in the rest of the program will at least be steps in the right direction