7 ocean conservation documentaries to remind you it’s the end of the world
An Inconvenient Truth, known to some as An Irritating Truth, gave Al Gore a chance to remind everyone just how big a mistake they made not making him President. Since the environment is something that’s relatively important when it comes to the thing we like to call “breathing”, it’s become abundantly clear that we can’t mindlessly sweep ecological issues under the carpet.
The bulge in the carpet is now a mountain of trash that’s taking over the living room. Before it creates its own flag, currency and passport much like the Trash Isles, let’s do our bit to save the whales, our oceans and our planet.
Watching these marine conservation documentaries will create awareness about global warming, overfishing, poaching, survival and giant prehistoric sea turtles. Even if you don’t lead a beach clean up this coming weekend, you’ll be able to keep up with the conservation… or at the very least, the conversation.
Migrations: The Big Swim (Showmax)
Migrations is a nature documentary about the migratory habits and life struggles of giant sea life and their much smaller upstream counterparts. Capturing magical underwater footage and spectacular seascapes, this marine documentary ventures from peaceful annual migrations to carefully “Orca-strated” attacks. Dropping marine life factoids about the big swim against mesmerising imagery and ambient sounds, this is quite literally an immersive experience.
While the commentary is a far cry from human documentaries such as Come Dine with Me and Wipe Out, the narrator does add a lighter touch in discussing shark “health spas” and sea turtle “coupling”. Migrations is a fascinating and epic exploration of near-alien creatures, starting near the Galápagos Islands and stretching as far as the coasts and streams of Africa and Canada.
My Octopus Teacher (Netflix)
The film title may make this documentary seem like a kung fu movie in which a young grasshopper learns the ways of the octopus kick – but its Oscar-winning statuette for Best Documentary confirms its seriousness. We follow an almost naked free-diver, seemingly impervious to ice cold seawater, as he befriends an inspirational octopus off the coast of South Africa.
Lacing beautiful cinematography and underwater photography against a man’s journey of healing following a breakdown, My Octopus Teacher is a sight for sore eyes and an emotional restoration for sore hearts. Celebrating conservation, uncovering some of the creature’s best kept secrets and powering home with some salty sea tears, this is an inspiring and elegant retelling of a remarkably true story. Whether you’ve explored kelp forests without flippers or wrestled a pyjama shark underwater, this bewitching documentary will help you sea life differently.
Icy Coast (Showmax)
This frigid and vivid marine documentary is about “The Masters of the Icy Coast”. Depicting some of the world’s coldest seas and coastlines, including South Africa’s Benguela Current, it reveals the creatures that have learned how to exploit these extreme conditions without wetsuits. From majestic seabirds and animals, all looking to get their share of fish, to eagles, gannets, penguins, seals and polar bears, it’s amazing to see how such diverse species adapt to survive.
Deconstructing the icescapes and food chain, the documentary explores everything from incy-wincy krill to country-size icebergs. Peppering the stunning and sensory footage with the kind of fascinating information that seems completely made up, the narrator’s dulcet keep-calm-and-carry-on voice reassures you that it’s all quite real. Stay tuned for one of the cutest predators known to man… the wily Arctic Fox.
Just as people are getting used to the idea that the seas are safe again, along comes Seaspiracy, a nature documentary with a lot of conspiracies to do with… you guessed it, the sea. Spielberg’s Jaws is not the predator: according to British filmmaker, Ali Tabrizi, it’s actually mankind with shark fin soup and nets scouring the ocean floor. Seaspiracy starts in the vein of The Cove and then spidergrams into almost every current ecological issue affecting our oceans.
Tackling issues that could have each warranted their own investigation, Seaspiracy chucks everything into this deep sea washing machine of a documentary. Pointing the finger at almost everyone, from poachers to purveyors, the fearless fishumentary shocks and rivets you through its high speed pursuit and inflammatory exposé before politely asking if you’d stop eating fish… for fish’s sake.
A Plastic Ocean (Netflix)
“Plastics” was the way of the future in The Graduate, which, in retrospect, just seems like bad advice. Australian documentarian and journalist Craig Leeson has made it his life’s mission (and from the sounds of it, his religion) to conserve the oceanic environment after developing a passion for wildlife as a youngster in Tasmania. Narrating A Plastic Ocean and even adding his own whale sound effects, the award-winning filmmaker celebrates the vastness of the ocean and its creatures while contrasting it with increases in plastic pollution.
It’s reported that almost eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the ocean each year. Going full Jacques Cousteau with bubble-shaped underwater sea craft, the filmmaker investigates the Western Mediterranean’s littered ocean floor. Discussing everything from harmful dioxins and plastic pollution’s impact on seafood, Leeson even addresses the toxic chemicals released in plastic-induced woodfire cooking in Fiji – he’s very thorough.
Madagascar Maverick (Showmax)
Everyone knows someone who would readily give it all up to lead the life of an adventurer. Even if that someone was you after you first watched Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll love the vicarious adventures of Madagascar Maverick. In 2003, Riaan Manser made it his mission to cycle around the African continent covering some 37 000 kilometres. Conquering the main continent on a bicycle, the world’s fourth largest island (often forgotten on maps) taunted him to the point of picking up his paddle.
After risking it all on two wheels and surviving, Manser felt the need to circumnavigate the island of Madagascar… not on a bicycle… but a kayak. Alone and unaided, this self-proclaimed maverick earns his stripes by paddling through idyllic and dangerous waters. Home to real pirates, deadly sea creatures (not unlike the Kraken) and contending with cyclone season, it’s a journey for the wild at heart. Armed with nothing but a camera, a fishing rod and, well, his arms, the solo adventurer turned survivalist offers commentary on his beautiful, brave and perilous expedition.
Want more Riaan Manser adventure? Check out some of his other extraordinary exploits here.
Mission Blue (Netflix)
Renowned National Geographic marine biologist, oceanographer and explore, Dr Sylvia Earle is a living legend with thousands of hours of diving experience. President and Chairman of Mission Blue, she’s committed to saving our seas, having seen the radical changes over her lifetime. From perceptions of an invincible ocean, Earle has been at the forefront of conservation whether she’s being interviewed by other documentarians or heading up her own campaigns.
Part biographical chronicle and part action-adventure, Mission Blue passionately explores the notion that “a world without the ocean, is a world without us”. Accompanied and directed by The Cove documentarian Fisher Stevens, who you may recognise as Phoebe’s psychiatrist boyfriend on Friends, Mission Blue unpacks Earle’s early life and work as a marine biologist, oceanographer and environmentalist. From the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to Hope Spots, the “Joan of Arc of the oceans”, according to James Cameron, has fearlessly (and defiantly) campaigned to create environmental awareness through books, documentaries and lecture tours.