Nature, Inc. TV series: Exploring the planet’s largest ‘enterprise’!

Nature is priceless -- or is i? The answer might save us all!
Nature is priceless — or is it?

If we put a cash price on the economic services that, say, watersheds or insects or coastal mangroves provide, would we value Nature more? Would we be prepared to change our ways of measuring wealth and economic growth? And if we did, would that slow down the extinctions and collapse of ecosystems?

These are some of the issues that are explored in Nature, Inc., a path-breaking TV documentary series that puts a price-tag on environmental services such as forests, wildlife and coral reefs.

First broadcast in 2008 and 2009 on BBC World News, Nature Inc. broke new ground for environmental programming by seeking out a new breed of investor – those who believe they can make money out of saving the planet.

Watch Nature, Inc. series trailer:

Nature Inc. offers new insights into valuing the benefits of natural systems and biodiversity. It takes its lead from economists who have worked out that ecosystem services are worth more than the total of all the world’s national economies.

The first and second series are now available from TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP). Each series comprises six half-hour episodes, compacting stories filmed in different parts of the world. Broadcast, civil society and educational users across the Asia Pacific may order copies at the cost of duplication and dispatch, and without having to pay a license fee.

The series was produced by One Planet Pictures of the UK, in association with of Switzerland.

“There is new green thinking out there and some of it is grappling with pricing renewable assets. As such we felt it was a legitimate new area to take as an organising theme for the new series,” says Robert Lamb, series producer of Nature, Inc. “Perhaps the global recession has made viewers more aware of the ‘eco’ in economics”.

Robert Lamb

The series is based on new research and analysis being done on the subject. Among these new studies is the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), a major international initiative to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity, to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and to draw together expertise from the fields of science, economics and policy to enable practical actions moving forward.

But adding a price tag to Nature is not something that pleases all scientists or activists. Robert says the producers received “an overwhelmingly positive reaction” to the first series, but there was also a small minority who wrote in to say they hated the premise of the whole series.

He adds: “That’s good, we want to foster discussion in Nature Inc. which is why we are encouraging viewers to contribute ideas for the next series.”

Read Robert Lamb’s reflections on the Making of Nature, Inc. TV series

Here’s a sample episode from the series, titled Coral Cashpoint. In this, Nature Inc investigates a claim that our coral reefs are worth $30 billion a year. In this fourth episode, we go diving on the Great Barrier Reef, the Maldives and to the bottom of the North Sea to find out how coral reefs supply 500 million of us with food and work. But we are destroying the reefs so quickly, they could vanish entirely in less than a hundred years.

Nature, Inc: Coral Cashpoint – Part 1 of 2

Nature, Inc: Coral Cashpoint – Part 2 of 2

Wanted, urgent: Next-Gen Jacque Cousteaus to be our tour guides to Planet Ocean!

Tony Fontes

As my Australian diver friend Valerie used to say, the trouble with many of us land-lubbers is that we have ‘no idea what’s going on in the sea that covers three quarters of our planet’.

Yet what we do – and don’t do – affects the fate of the sea and all its creatures and systems. That’s a big problem.

Take, for example, roral reefs. Among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on our planet, they are sometimes called rainforests of the sea. And these rich and colourful habitats are now under siege from multiple pressures, ranging from indiscriminate fishing and tourism practices to global warming.

Yet, the coral reefs haven’t attracted the same kind of public concern and outcry as has the destruction of tropical rainforests. How come?

Is this a case of out of sight and out of mind for a majority of the world’s land-lubbers? This is what I asked Australian diver Tony Fontes, who has been a diver and dive instructor for 30 years, much of it at the largest reef of all – the Great Barrier Reef off the north-eastern coast of Australia.

“It sure is – and ideally, everyone should become a diver, so we can all see and feel the wonders of the reef,” he replied.

He added: “At a minimum, we have to do lots of awareness raising. This is why we need to bring back Jacques-Yves Cousteau!”

Tony was engaging journalists at the 7th Greenaccord International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, held in Viterbo, Italy, from 25 – 29 November 2009.

This year’s theme is ‘Climate is changing: stories, facts and people’, and Tony was one of 10 Climate Witnesses who travelled to the central Italian city from far corners of the world to share their stories of ground level changes induced by climate change. Climate Witness is a global programme by WWF International to enable grassroots people to share their story of how climate change affects their lives and what they are doing to maintain a clean and healthy environment. All Climate Witness stories have been authenticated by independent scientists.

Great Barrier Reef: A planetary treasure under siege

Tony lives and works in Airlie Beach (Whitsundays) in Queensland, Australia. It’s a small seaside community right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Most of his time is spent underwater on training dives – he has clocked over 10,000 hours of professional diving. He generally dives many of the same sites over and over again.

This long and deep immersion in the marine realm gives him uncommon insights into the state of the reef – and it’s not a healthy or pretty picture.

He says: “Through personal observations as well as those by other divers, I have noted changes to the (marine) environment hat are most likely climate induced.”

Increase in coral bleaching is the most noticeable change. From a rare occurrence in the 1980s, it went on to become a regular summer event by the mid 1990s. The past decade has witnessed the largest coral bleaching events on record. And unlike in the past, these have led to large scale coral death and decay.

“Many popular dive sites have lost their lustre due to coral bleaching,” he says, pointing out that the reefs need up to 10 years to fully recover.

He adds: “However, with more bleaching events occurring every year, I wonder if the reefs will ever recover. Without the postcard reef scenes, many visitors are disappointed in their reef experience and are not likely to return.”

It’s not just warmer seas that affects the Great Barrier Reef. Occasional outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, marine pests who eat up the healthy reef, add pressure on the reef. In recent years, scientists have identified another threat – sediments, fertilisers and pesticides from agricultural run-off. This was investigated in Sally Ingleton’s 2003 film, Muddy Waters: Life and Death on the Great Barrier Reef.

Listening to Tony reminded me of Muddy Waters, which journeys to the sugarcane plantations of northern Queensland and into an underwater world to find out what’s killing the reef and what can be done to save it. I was on the international jury of Japan Wildlife Film Festival 2003 when we voted it for the Best Environment and Conservation Award.

“It’s hard to get farmers to change their ways,” says Tony, who works with three local initiatives aimed at reef conservation and related educational outreach. This includes Project AWARE, a non-profit environmental organisation that encourages divers to take action and protect the environment.

The clown fish who moved the world

Global warming now threatens to nullify all these efforts. “If the coral reefs of the world are to survive, we cannot afford the predicted 2 – 3 degree increase in ocean temperature. But we also need to…reduce all impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. This would include improving the water quality of the reef.”

Tony comes across as a man of few, carefully chosen words. His answers are brief and precise. But his passion for the reef and the ocean is clearly evident.

He had a simple, emphatic message to the world’s leaders and activists meeting soon in Copenhagen for the UN Climate Summit: “How are we going to explain to our children and their children that we lost the Great Barrier Reef?”

Perhaps we need not only the next generation of Jacques Cousteaus, but also every kind of communicator who can take the marine conservation messages through factual and entertainment media formats. It’s encouraging to note that Finding Nemo, the 2003 Disney-Pixar animation movie set in the Great Barrier Reef, is the highest selling DVD of all time – more than 40 million copies, and counting.

WWF Australia backgrounder on the Great Barrier Reef