“The minute we paused,
the Earth was able to breathe again.”

In March 2020, we saw a deadly virus sweep across the globe, causing the world to come to a stand still. With travel halted and businesses closed, the world did, indeed, have a moment to breathe, and most importantly, heal. In India, with individuals sheltering in place to avoid the spread of COVID-19, something phenomenal happened for the first time in over 30 years: the air was so clear that The Himalayas could be seen from a great distance. A sight unseen since the early 1990s. How incredible? One of many extraordinary events captured by David Attenborough’s “The Year Earth Changed,” a documentary about the significant change that took place during the course of a year of lockdowns, and nature’s phenomenal ability to bounce back when and if given a chance.

Perhaps most striking of all were the observed changes to the oceans and diverse marine life. With beaches closed to visitors, scientists were able to study sea turtles more efficiently. As sea turtles return to the same beaches from which they hatch, to lay their eggs, findings revealed a direct link between beach closures and a significant increase in sea turtle populations (about 40%-60%), allowing for a spectacular comeback of the once endangered sea turtle populations! Underwater communication between sea mammals, such as dolphins and humpback whales greatly improved with a notable reduction in ocean traffic from cruise ships. In fact, without the disturbance from cruise ships, the underwater world was 25x quieter, allowing humpback whales to not only communicate aptly with one another but also communicate across much longer distances. A ripple effect was observed in humpback feeding habits, greatly aiding nursing mothers who must consume on average 3000 pounds of food a day in order to just produce enough milk to feed their calves. Dolphins in Hauraki Bay, New Zealand similarly tripled their communication range.

The documentary takes a similar look at land-based species. In Japan, specifically Nara, the Nara deers began searching for alternate food sources, traveling meters from the temple grounds they now call home, to spaces that still have remnants of the meadows they once grazed; prior to the pandemic, Nara deer depended mainly on tourists as their main source of food. As a result, local scientists reported a noticeable difference in the overall quality of life for the Nara deer. 

“The Year Earth Changed” provides us with a much needed glimpse into a world where we learn to coexist with nature & animals, and work towards making the planet a better place to live – for all of us. Even if it’s taking the smallest steps, such as putting time limits on beaches during sea turtle nesting season or altering cruise times and paths to avoid interference with the communication and food gathering of whales, we can definitely make a difference if we put in the effort.