Nature meets culture: An escape to Eden, camera-trap app and more

© Rod Mast

In an era ruled by technology, connecting with nature may seem difficult. But with a little help, you can find nature everywhere. Here are a few shows, podcasts and more that can help bring nature to life for you, wherever you are.

1. A docuseries that brings Eden to you 

With many people remain inside during the pandemic, they may be looking for an escape without actually leaving their homes. 

The good news: BBC’s newest series “Eden: Untamed Planet” transports viewers to some of the most remote natural places on the planet — from the vast grasslands of the Luangwa Valley in Zambia to the sandy coastlines of the Galápagos Islands. 

“There are still places on Earth that remain pristine,” actress and series narrator Helena Bonham Carter says at the beginning of each episode. “Where wildlife flourishes. These are the last regions that could be called ‘Eden.’”

The series expertly balances humor and suspense, switching from iguanas surfing waves in the South Pacific to deadly face-offs between sea lions and sharks. Between giggles and gasps, viewers might find themselves wondering how the videographers were able to capture such intimate footage of the animal kingdom, including Galápagos tortoise hatchlings emerging from their shells and a courtship between two endangered rhinos.  

Fortunately, several segments throughout the series offer a behind-the-scenes look at the show’s crew — some of which also helped produce “Planet Earth” — and the drones and underwater cameras they use to film the animals without disturbing them.

While the ecosystems featured in the show are largely intact, they face looming pressure from deforestation, human-wildlife conflict and development. But each episode ends on a positive note, highlighting the conservation efforts underway to ensure that these ecosystems remain pristine for future generations. 

2. An app to help you become a naturalist 

Using 160 motion-sensor camera traps, Oxford professor David Macdonald and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit have spent the last decade tracking the impact of deforestation on one of the world’s most endangered big cats: the snow leopard. 

Now, you can join Macdonald’s research team and study the diverse species of Southeast Asia — virtually, at least.

The new mobile app “Unseen Empire” transforms this extensive study into an interactive game that features more than 6 million photographs captured during Macdonald’s research expeditions. During the game, users set up their own virtual camera trap and try to snap a photo of the elusive snow leopard. Then, players head back to base camp to analyze photographs of many vulnerable species in the region — from one-horned rhinos to greater hog badgers. 

The game’s developers hope that interacting with the data from the field will help players understand why these species are endangered in the first place: Research shows that deforestation and poaching remain a constant threat to biodiversity throughout Southeast Asia — particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Macdonald, engaging the public through this app could help illustrate the importance of conservation research and technology to protect the world’s wildlife. 

"If you don't have any encounter or experience with elements of nature, then what motivation can you have to take a personal interest in it?" Macdonald told CNN. "I think that detail of understanding brings a greater investment in wanting to see a good outcome. I would like to think that engagement with this game ... will lead to a feeling of value, which will affect how they think about nature.”

3. An underwater museum in the Mediterranean 

In the crystal-clear waters of Cyprus, an underwater forest is calling attention to the impacts of climate change — and how humans can fight it. 

Conceived by artist Jason deCaires Taylor, the Museum of Underwater Sculpture (Musan) features more than 90 sculptures in the depths of the Cyprus Marine Protected Area. The exhibit’s installations include models of children taking photographs of polluters, lengths of metal and wire fashioned into artificial vines, and trees made of stones, rocks and shells — some weighing up to 13 tons.

"I tried to incorporate as many references to climate change and habitat loss and pollution as I could, because those are really the defining issues of our era," Taylor told CNN Travel

"I'm kind of hoping that it leaves the visitor with a sense of hope along with a sense that the human impact isn't always negative. That we can reverse some of the things we've done,” he added. “But I also hope that it instills some other messages about holding … corporations responsible. It's really about safeguarding the future of the younger generation."

Not only does the aquatic museum provide a spectacle for snorkelers and divers, it also offers a refuge for marine life in the Mediterranean — the world’s most overfished sea. Made with inert pH-neutral materials that promote algal growth, the sculptures have already provided habitat for small schools of juvenile fish. 

"The underwater museum will be a living visual and ecological experience, with works of art interacting with nature and evolving over time," said Marina Argyrou, director of Cyprus’ Department of Fisheries and Marine Research, which helped develop the exhibit. "And I'm certain it will bring people closer to the marine environment and the conservation and protection of our marine ecosystem."


Kiley Price is the staff writer and news editor at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

Cover image: A group of sea lions sleep on the beach, Galápagos Islands (© Rod Mast)

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