Earth Day: Best nature documentaries to watch online
James R | On 22, Apr 2021
In 1970, 20 million Americans mobilised to call for greater protections for our planet. Ever since, on 22nd April, Earth Day has marked that determination to protect the Earth. 50 years on, campaigners are still calling for a movement to drive transformative change to the way we look after the world around us.
Climate change is an issue that can easily be forgotten about in the day-to-day worries of the rest of the year. Whether you’re looking to remind yourself of the fragility of nature and our responsibilities towards it, or aiming to pass on that knowledge and awareness to younger generations, we’ve rounded up the best nature documentaries available on Disney+, Netflix UK, Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer to inspire and encourage:
The Year Earth Changed
This moving, eye-opening documentary about the natural world during the coronavirus pandemic emphasises the impact that humanity has upon the environment.
My Octopus Teacher
More sentimental than scientific, this beautifully filmed nature documentary swims straight for your heart.
This alarming and shocking documentary about the impact of the fishing industry upon the oceans may convince you to change your eating habits entirely.
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet
David Attenborough gets personal in this environmental wake-up call delivered with alarming urgency.
This portrait of pioneering chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall is an inspiring, vibrant watch for the whole family.
Before the Flood
Leonardo DiCaprio trots the globe to investigate the consequences of manmade climate change in this urgent, important documentary.
The Ivory Game
An elephant is killed every 15 minutes. It sounds senseless, but that’s the shocking truth of the ivory trade in the modern world. It has grown to become a profitable, illegal, global business and a major threat to the animals’ existence. The Ivory Game is a window into that reality. It doesn’t just show us the facts; it makes sense of them with an urgent logic.
“I have accepted to give the best of myself, so that wildlife can be safeguarded beyond all pressure,” says Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, a warden of Virunga National Park. The park is one of the only refuges in the world for the remaining population of mountain gorillas. Virunga follows the people who work to keep this sanctuary safe. Over 100 rangers have so far died doing so. Powerful, passionate and important filmmaking.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary about Tilikum, an orca captured and separated from his family, is a chilling, provocative film that will leave you angry at the human race – and determined never to go to a SeaWorld in your life.
Swapping melting polar caps for dying coral, Chasing Ice director Jeff Orlowski once again crafts a piece of filmmaking that is heartbreakingly, stunningly important. Glaciers are one thing, visible above the water and notably absent once gone, but coral reefs are easy to overlook, hidden beneath the surface. Chasing Coral dives into the unseen impacts of global warming, revealing that most of the reefs around Florida have died in the last three decades. It’s a problem that spans the globe, with over half of the reefs lost everywhere from Hawaii to Australia. The damage isn’t just being done – it’s already happened. A powerful, urgent, inspiring call to wake up to climate change.
The Island President
President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives is a man confronting a problem greater than any other world leader has ever faced. As the lowest lying country in the world, if the sea level rises a few feet, the islands will be uninhabitable. Made back in 2012, this might seem dated, but the fact that people are still trying to convince politicians to take action years later is a damning indictment of society’s response to climate change.
Secrets of the Whales: Season 1
Released to coincide with Earth Day, this visually impressive series plunges us into the epicentre of whale culture, and the show’s ability to capture the oft-overlooked communication between orca is a fascinating watch. Sigourney Weaver narrating is the icing on the aquatic cake.
Earth at Night in Colour: Season 1 and 2
While David Attenborough is the king of the nature jungle, Tom Hiddleston proves an adept substitute, narrating this nocturnal series with an infectious sense of admiration and awe. He’s supported by some jaw-dropping camerawork, which uses cutting-edge cameras to capture the lives of animals after dusk.
Tiny World: Season 1 and 2
Paul Rudd narrates this charming series that finds big spectacle in the smallest of animals, and inventively explores new ways to show us life from their perspective.
Night on Earth
When the sun goes down, a new world awakes. Night on Earth showcases the wonders of the nocturnal world like never before. The series uses new technology to reveal our planet in a new light. Across the globe we discover a hidden side to the world’s greatest landscapes and animals, with each of the six episodes exploring different demanding habitats.
Blue Planet II
David Attenborough once again narrates this majestic, majestically filmed nature documentary, which dives beneath the waves to reveal not only the life beneath, but the way in which that life is being transformed by our existence up above. From the Earth’s frozen poles to coral reefs, it’s an eye-opening, informative and infinitely accessible programme that is almost too much to take in one sitting. Plus who doesn’t like the excuse to drop the word “phytoplankton” into everyday conversation?
This series, which is produced by Silverback Films (whose director Alastair Fothergill was the creator of the original Planet Earth), shares the wonder of the extraordinary place we call home. Utilising the latest 4K technology, it’s a jaw-dropping reminder of the awe we owe to our planet, from exotic jungles to the deepest seas.
One Strange Rock
Darren Aronofsky and Will Smith team up for this unique National Geographic series, which reveals the quirks of fate that enabled life to thrive on our planet – told by the astronauts who are the only humans to have left it behind.
Filmed over summer and winter, this visually stunning series gets us up close to the wildlife in this national park, unearthing the challenging difficulties that face the animals living in what appears to be a beautiful paradise.