Jennifer Jones / BBC Studios
Changing Planet Returns to Monitor Changes in Earth’s Most Vulnerable Ecosystems
Global conservation scientist Dr. M. Sanjayan explores how communities are confronting climate change and finding solutions
Changing Planet returns for its second year of a seven-year project to revisit six of our planet’s most vulnerable ecosystems and provide updates on how communities are continuing to work to find solutions to climate change.
Two new hosts – paleoanthropologist and stand-up comic Ella Al-Shamahi and television presenter, Paralympian, and children’s author Ade Adepitan – join global conservation scientist and CEO of Conservation International Dr. M. Sanjayan to uncover this year’s stories.
They’ll travel from Brazil to California, Greenland to the Maldives, and Kenya to Cambodia to chart how communities are making progress and facing setbacks over the past year.
A lot has happened in the past 12 months, from the devastating drought in Kenya to new scientific discoveries in the Maldives that offer hope for the world’s coral reefs.
“We have an opportunity to do things properly,” said Sanjayan. “We have the inherited wisdom, we have the science, and we have the tech to understand when things are going wrong and why. Now we need the money and political muscle to implement what needs doing.”
In the first hour of the program, Sanjayan hosts from Australia. There he travels to the remote Gibson Desert, where the land is under the stewardship of the Indigenous Pintupi, who are having spectacular success preserving a vast and vital ecosystem.
Sanjayan learns about cultural burning and how small, managed fires guard against megafires and invigorate new plant growth. He discovers that invasive species – like the camel – threaten native species, but efforts are being made to control and eradicate their population.
Megafires are also a problem in Northern California and Changing Planet reports on cultural burning, practiced by the Tule, Mono, and Yurok tribes. Other efforts to create a fire-resistant landscape include reintroducing the beaver, a native keystone species whose natural damming activities restore creeks and rivers and function like speedbumps for forest fires, changing how fire moves.
“There are lots of answers that are rooted in Indigenous wisdom and answers that are rooted in modern, cutting-edge science,” said Sanjayan. “Put the two together and maybe there’s a path forward.”
In Kenya and the Pantanal in Brazil, climate change exacerbates human and animal conflict over resources. Host Ade Adepitan explores how scientists are working with Kenyan farmers to develop practical and affordable solutions to keep elephants away from farmland, including a solar-powered box that emits the sound of angry buzzing bees.
In Brazil, ranchers, who consider jaguars a nuisance, are coming to understand that their presence increases eco-tourism, a boost for the economy. Scientists are placing GPS collars on jaguars to track their location and avoid human-animal conflict.
Then, in hour 2, we’ll catch up with innovative scientists fighting to protect vulnerable ecosystems. In Australia, Sanjayan explores the potential of “blue carbon,” the carbon captured and stored by the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems. In Cairns, Traditional Owners work with airport officials to maintain the surrounding carbon-rich mangrove forests. Sanjayan is thrilled to encounter dugongs, the elusive marine mammal whose digestive system distributes and helps germinate seeds from seagrass, an important blue carbon plant.
In Cambodia, host Ella Al-Shamahi examines the heroic efforts being made by scientists and Indigenous communities to support the nearly extinct Siamese crocodile. Scientists are also using technology to track the devastating effects of sand mining on the country’s largest river system, hoping to use the evidence to pressure the government to act more responsibly.
In Greenland, researchers track musk oxen, survivors of the Ice Age, to learn more about how they are being affected by climate change. Musk oxen play an essential role in maintaining the health of the tundra, transporting nutrients uphill, and creating more vigorous plants through grazing.
In the Maldives, acoustic experts and ecologists use hydrophones to listen to the heartbeat of a coral reef, discovering that larval coral responds to specific sound frequencies, actually moving towards the sounds of a healthy reef.
Watch the Changing Planet season two premiere on Wednesday, April 19 at 9pm on WITF TV or stream it using the free PBS or WITF app. Episodes are available to stream for free for four weeks following their television premiere.