‘My Octopus Teacher’ Stuns Audiences, Reinforces Power of Nature
In his latest documentary, My Octopus Teacher, free diver and filmmaker Craig Foster tells a unique story about his friendship and bond with an octopus in a kelp forest in Cape Town, South Africa. It's been labeled "the love story that we need right now" by The Cut.
As noted by CNN, the film follows Foster as he battles career exhaustion and depression by going for daily swims in the frigid South African coast.
He becomes fixated upon a common octopus, freediving daily to visit and observe her in her natural habitat. He's amazed by her ability to find clever ways to evade predators and adapt to her environment.
"Before the viewer's eyes, the octopus adapts her crab-hunting strategy for lobster, evades a pyjama shark by climbing onto its back, shape-shifts to resemble seaweed and rocks, and otherwise applies her intelligence and creativity to survive," the NewScientist observed.
Foster's fascination and curiosity with her are matched by hers with him, according to a review by Vulture. The unlikely relationship between them is a mentorship on the fragility of life and man's connection to nature, reported The Cut. Their interaction culminates when the octopus swims up to Foster and lands on his chest, in a display of inter-species connection, the review said.
Throughout the film, Foster tracks the octopus' movements and thereby transports viewers into the octopus' natural world and point of view in a way that has rarely been done before, reported BizNews. It brings a "level of consciousness few have experienced before him" to the life of the cephalopod, and some celebrities have vowed never to eat octopus again after watching it, according to the news report and USA Today.
"If you gain the trust of that animal over a period of months, it will actually ignore you to a certain degree and carry on with its normal life, and allow you to step inside its secret world," Foster told CNN. "The octopus showed me many behaviors that were completely new to science because this animal trusted me."
Foster told CNN that the greatest lesson the octopus taught him is that humans are part of the natural world and not simply visitors.
The film was backed by the Sea Change Project, an NGO Foster co-founded to create awareness about the South African sea forest. The ecosystem stretches for 800 miles along the coasts of Namibia and South Africa, according to VOA News.
"Our group, our whole idea is to try and get this great African sea forest, kind of the home of the octopus teacher, recognized as a global icon, like the Serengeti or the Great barrier reef, because nobody really knows about it and no one realizes just how important this ecosystem is in terms of biodiversity, in terms of how important it is for the planet," Foster said, reported BizNews. "People have sort of forgotten that the biodiversity of nature is our life support system."
Several international publications have listed My Octopus Teacher as a must-see, including The Washington Post, Hollywood reviews, and even scientific articles, according to BizNews. It has already won several prestigious awards, including best feature at the EarthX Film Festival.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.