In National Geographic’s film “Strange Days on Planet Earth”, the narrator Edward Norton explains to the viewer how even the smallest invasive specie can still cause havoc in a big city. In New Orleans, Louisiana, several families and their homes are waging war against an alien creature in their area. Formosan termites from Japan are becoming a huge problem for the people of New Orleans to handle. These termites are constantly eating away at people’s wooden buildings and homes throughout the city. The termites work in large groups, eat twenty-four hours a day, and always search for food. Their consistancy is the cause for over two billion dollars of damage in the past decade. This damage is not only expensive but also potentially dangerous as the termites’ actions cause buildings and homes to come crashing down.
The termites began their journey to the United States following the end of World War II. After the war ended, the United States Navy constructed wooden boxes in order to transport their supplies from Japan back to the United States. The only problem is that the Navy was not solely transporting supplies. The Formosan termites also hitched a ride to the United States by being inside of the wooden structure of the boxes. From that time sixty years ago, the termite population has expanded rapidly in some parts of the United States, especially Louisiana. Louisiana is favorable to the termites since it has a hot and sticky climate, just like the one the termites are accustomed to back in Japan.
As many as ten nests could be found in only one neighborhood in New Orleans. The city realizes that they are not able to eliminate the termites, so its goal is to manage the termite population. Claudia Riegel has been constructing wooden bait locations under ground. When the termites take the bait, Riegel replaces the wooden bait with poison paper. Her goal is to have the termites transport the poison back to their respective nests. If this process is successful, the nest would be destroyed in under three months time. This approach has a chance to limit the amount of termites in New Orleans, but it still does not seem as if it is enough. New Orleans officials found termites in one of the electrical buildings that is in charge of preventing New Orleans from being flooded. If more action is not conducted, the termites will eventually eat away at the building until it collaspes causing the city of New Orleans to flood. Hopefully, after this movie was presented, several more methods were conducted to try to severely limit the amount of termites in New Orleans. If not, then these termites are probably destroying homes and electrical buildings daily.
In the National Geographic documentary series, Strange Days on Planet Earth, narrator Edward Norton introduces the increasing global change related to invasive species as a mystery that the film attempts to solve by providing the audience with clues of such alien invaders. Along the way, Norton elaborates on some of the ecological and social effects these aliens have affected along the way. As expert ecologist Jim Carlton featured in the film explains, these aliens are spreading disease and devouring buildings with more and more arrivals every year.
The film is well organized, presenting each successful invader and showing its harmful effects in a visually interesting matter to ensure the viewer is captivated by the issue at hand. For example, to illustrate the fast movement of many insect species around the world, train wheels are juxtaposed with millipede legs. Flashback-style film clips keep the viewer intrigued and interested in the origin stories for many of the aliens.
Besides being visually interesting, the documentary also contains a great deal of valuable information. Creatures from termites in New Orleans to water hyacinth in Lake Victoria are highlighted, and the consequences of their invasions are detailed. In the ideal hot and sticky climate of New Orleans, termite arrivals from Asia make themselves right at home and destroy homes as well as outcompete native species by having the ability to nest anywhere. In Uganda, the water hyacinth covered up to 80% of the shoreline at one point, preventing fishermen from moving in the lake and getting sufficient catches to feed themselves and their families. It also blocks sunlight, causing the death and rotting of other species and thus decreasing water quality and serving as an impetus for many waterborne diseases. Possible methods of control are discussed, including poison for termites and biocontrol with weevils for the hyacinth.
Another valuable aspect of the documentary is its message to the audience to examine the world through a different lens. As Norton stresses, ignorance is seldom bliss and we must be responsible for our own actions. If we push our luck by carelessly transporting species from port to port in ballast tanks, our planet will eventually become one continent in which enormous amounts of extinction may occur. In my opinion, this documentary does a fantastic job of providing an overview of some effects alien species have on their new homes and makes an impression on the viewer by highlighting the dangers of the globalization of species.
An apocalyptic description of the global disaster created by invasive species launches the dramatic episode, Invaders, in the documentary, “Strange Days on Planet Earth”. Gripping the audience with a sense of oncoming doom familiar to a science fiction thriller, Edward Norton speaks directly into the face of the camera as he composes himself in a relaxed position in the middle of a neighborhood lined with green lawns and off-white siding. This setting alone seems to imply a hidden message, that the danger of invasive species is easily overlooked within the confines of domesticated suburbia.
The film declares relentless worldwide movement as the source of the problem; global travel induces global transport of non-native species, and those species that are able to establish themselves in the new conditions explode in population growth and destroy the natural order of species dominance.
Three instances in the movie encompass the pandemic that is invasion by non-native species. Using close-up video and shocking images of homes crumbling to the ground and pianos falling through floors, the film depicts the destructive nature of the Asian termite, foreign to New Orleans and eating away at the wooden city without pause. The termite was transferred to the South by means of wooden crates made in Japan and shipped to the United States alongside returning veterans after Japan’s official surrender in World War II. Now, the film explains, the termite wreaks havoc on a disaster-stricken city by competing with the native termites, who, unlike the Asian termites, cannot live above and below ground and thus avoid many pesticides. A researcher captured in the film is shown using “termite bait” to eventually poison the termites, a solution which she believes to have potential to eliminate the alien pest from New Orleans with time.
The second instance of non-native invasion involves the introduction of Nile perch to Lake Victoria, Uganda. By outcompeting other lake species, the perch became the dominating fish in the waters, and it also attracted many fishermen to the water. This has increased the likelihood of the fishermen to come in contact with the Nile crocodile, which has resulted is many injuries, some fatal. The film does an adequate job explaining the timeline of this series of occurrences, but it also skims over this shocking situation, mentioning the Nile perch only a few times before moving on to a discussion of another invasive species, the water hyacinth.
The last invasive species discussed in depth is the Miconia plant, a Hawaiian land invader that is escalating erosion rates and completely destroying the utopian landscape. I was sincerely impressed with the way the film followed one scientist’s devoted quest to protect the land and how it provided a history of the origin of the plant.
In all regards, the film was well developed, multi-faceted and engaging. It provided a shock factor that, while possibly dramatizing the story to a degree, emphasized the human ability to minimize problems that seem distant or irrelevant to daily living. It put the issue of invasive species into perspective and justified its claims to create a solid nature production.
Invasive species is currently one of the most threatening problems in today’s world to both the environment and to national economies. Even though a majority of people probably do not realize the extent to which this problem has elevated, the consequences are continuously multiplying around the world.
National Geographic’s documentary, “Strange Days on Planet Earth”, tries to shed light on the mysteries and issues posed by numerous invasive species across the globe. Edward Norton expertly narrates the story behind the countless alien species that have wreaked havoc in many ecosystems. The film discusses the indicators and the effects that invasive animals have on their new homes and the native species who reside in them. The main consequences of this issue include increases in outbreaks of disease, famine, and the extinction of native species. This documentary also explains how humans have contributed a massive amount to the feasibility of one species traveling to other environments. While most invasive species are not able to sustain themselves in new places, this film highlights a few examples of successful invasive species; that is successful in both surviving and destroying the previous structure of that particular area. These examples include the termites of New Orleans, the zebra mussel, and the Mediterranean fruit fly; each of which have caused billions of dollars worth of damage. While most invasive species, once settled into their new homes, are very difficult to eradicate, Strange Days on Planet Earth does a great job of illustrating the methods that people are using to try to control and eliminate these animals. For example, the water hyacinth, an invasive plant native to South America, had begun to completely take over Lake Victoria. The populations of hyacinth has since then been greatly reduced due to the introduction of the weevil (herbivorous beetles native to North America) into the lake. This method of introducing a new predator to get rid of an invasive species is referred to as bio control.
Overall, this documentary successfully portrays the potential catastrophic effects that invasive species can have around the world as well as the actions people are taking in an effort to slow and even reverse these effects. The film also leaves the viewer with the notion that these isolated problems being posed by invasive species may just be a warning for the most massive extinction on planet earth since the age of the dinosaurs; a message that is sure to resonate in the viewers’ mind well after the documentary’s conclusion.
The United States, part of an expanding “global economic system,” is by no means self-sufficient when it comes to international trade. Since its predominant output lies in innovation technology and abstract ideas, the country is heavily dependent on exportation to sate the voracious demands of its consumer base. And as is the habit of world markets to, one way or another, fill any and all potential economic niches, coastal harbors are seeing an almost exponential increase in international shipping traffic, and like the symbiotic remora – pelagic marine fish that stick to sharks for faster transport – aquatic invasive species are shuttled along as well. These critters’ motions take a variety of forms – immigration by cargo, ballast water exchange, et cetera – and all are of concern to marine ecologist Jim Carlton, who operates out of San Francisco Bay. In the film “Strange Days on Planet Earth,” he tracks the rising rate of destructive aquatic invaders through Rapid Assessment Surveys (RAS), and is dismayed by the dismal ratio of native to alien species in the Bay area.
According to Carlton, paralleling the relentless growth in global transportation is an almost invisible (but relatively astronomical) increase in aquatic invasive species introductions to U.S. waters. Assuming that human shipping is the principle means by which species that, under normal conditions would be unable to survive the “odyssey” of trans-oceanic travel, circumvent their physical limits, every new ship involved in the global trade network increases the possibility that an alien species could successfully establish itself wherever said ship makes port. The fact that, according to the film’s website, the value of total imports increased from US $192 billion in 1965 to $3.3 trillion in 1990 provides obvious incentive to foreign companies to continue manufacturing products for export, so this trend is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. But this economic gain translates into an ecological disaster: Carlton describes it as an almost continuous game of “Russian Roulette,” in that “[humans] spin a new species into the environment and the potential for catastrophic impact to society, to the economy, to the environment is always there.”
The main investigator (Carlton) and his team approached the problem – the fact that American bays and harbors are practically brimming with foreign entities, all potential suspects in future invasions – primarily by simply conducting tests to understand the extent of the infestation. While knowledge on the inner workings of an invasion is lacking, and his RAS testing is important, Carlton’s inaction is key: it demonstrates that the invasion of the U.S. coast by aquatic alien species is so widespread that eradication, even with adequate funding, does not seem to really be a viable option any more. However, the mathematical principle of chaos theory (also known as the “butterfly effect”) could potentially be applied to the circumstances of an invasive species to explain why. Basically, chaos theory encapsulates the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions – what this means is that small differences (in this case, the introduction of an invader) in the initial condition of a dynamical system (or the foreign ecosystem an invader is introduced to) may produce large variations in the long term behavior of the system, if the invader finds the system hospitable. Or they might not have any effect whatsoever. This inherent inability to know for sure is exactly the reason why weather can only be accurately predicted out to a certain time – the infinitesimal changes that constantly take place (and from which spawn more changes) make further prediction impossible (the rest is extrapolation). In the context of aquatic invasive species, the film seems to understate the fact that the majority of invasions fail. The ones that succeed do so as a result of very specific environmental circumstances (predators or the absence of such, available niches, climate, season, location of insertion, availability of appropriate food, et cetera), and because these circumstances together comprise a fundamentally complex and random system, one built off of chaos, it seems like prediction of individual invasions (the “if’s and when’s”) is impossible. The only action that could be taken is preemptive and preventative in nature. That is, federal mandates that ballast tanks be disinfected or refilled in the open ocean; closer inspection of incoming and outgoing vessels; greater use of remote/infrared sensing; anything and everything that could potentially reduce the chance of a successful foreign invasion. Because, judging by the fact that 99% of the San Francisco Bay area by mass already constitutes foreign species, preventing (not to mention predicting) every invasion seems to be beyond the realm of human control.
“When Everything Moves Everywhere, What Will Survive?”
National Geographic’s “Strange Days on Planet Earth” captures the intensity, immediacy, and growing problems that are stemming from the spread of invasive species. With visual stimuli, harsh realities of destroyed environments presented, and the impact that individual actions can have to help this growing problem, this film effectively draws in the audience and forces us to face the seriousness of this epidemic. James Carlton emphasizes this by saying, “If we change our lenses a little, you can start to see the drastic changes of our world.”
The film highlights that plants and animals are being found in areas that they once were not found. In fact, over ninety-nine percent of marine life in the San Francisco bay area originated from another place in the world. The cause of this problem correlates with the acceleration of transportation, and with that, a surplus of invasive species that are contributing to “extinction on an epic scale” (National Geographic).
From red fire ants in America to the Brown Tree snake in Guam, invasive species are clearly identified in most parts of the world. While some may not be initially harmful, others threaten ecosystems and pose serious health issues. For example, an invasive termite invaded the New Orleans area, destroying homes, structures, and overall communities in its path. Crates made of local wood were sent to New Orleans at the end of the Vietnam War, and it soon became evident that the wood was responsible for carrying terminates across waters to their new home. The heat and surplus of wood, along with the fact that native termites prefer to live underground rather than above ground, are among the few reasons for the drastic incline and infestation.
As a result of these examples, I began to recognize and respect the magnitude of this problem. The movie ended by asking the audience to think about what will survive when everything moves everywhere. This idea is both shocking and disturbing. The more occurrences of invasive species taking over habitats, the less likely are native plants to survive. Our world is slowly becoming less and less diverse. And with constant changes of climate, technology, and society, we are putting our environment and ourselves at larger risks of disease and undesired consequences. I enjoyed this film because it not only thoroughly discussed invasive species, but it also brought in a personal appeal to the individual and the effects that our progression and actions have on our world.
“Strange Days on Planet Earth” is a documentary created by National Geographic and narrated by Edward Norton. It was created to provide a general audience with a glimpse at a problem that is plaguing the global community. The documentary details the problems associated with invasive species and provides examples from Uganda to New Orleans. Each example shows a different facet of the problem that the global community faces. The documentary opens with Jim Carlton’s work in an Oakland Port. He is in the process of making one of twenty rapid assessments in the area to determine new species in the area. His introduction is brief, but he is reintroduced later.
The viewer sees Claudia Riegel’s research of the Formosan subterranean termite. An invasive species introduced to America after the September 1945 Japanese surrender. When the Americans left they made crates from local wood, but the termites were in the wood. Once in America, the termites prospered in New Orleans because its climate is hot and sticky, similarly to the termites’ native land, and Orleans is composed mostly of wood. The termites then out competed native species because they can live above and below ground unlike the natives, which are only, settle below ground. The viewer even sees the efforts being made to eliminate the species.
Next, James Ogwang’s efforts to save Uganda’s Lake Victoria are shown. Here the viewer sees how the water hyacinth brought Uganda to its knees. Although the events in this part are quite riveting, details will be saved for SW3.
Finally, the documentary shows David Duffy’s research in Hawaii. In Hawaii, Duffy and Greg Asner are working to stop the miconia from destroying the island. The plant was brought to the island as a gift from Europe, but it soon got into the wild and began to outgrow surrounding vegetation. The growth began to shade lower growth until only miconia remained in the area. Areas where this occurred now have loose soil and are therefore prone to landslides. Asner is trying to find miconia colonies by determining how they reflect the sun and using this to find them from the air.
“Strange Days” then shows the viewers that scientists are not the only people contributing to these efforts. Civilians all over the world volunteer to help. In Uganda local fisher are helping to fight the water hyacinth. In America, the Weed Warriors are helping to eliminate the ice plant in their state.
The documentary is put together quite well and provides excellent insight for those who do not know very much about this issue. National Geographic’s usage of the word invaders became a motif present throughout the documentary. Edward Norton primarily uses when he describes the invasive species like they are an invasive alien army. He uses words and phrases such as “alien powers”, “invader assault”, and “encounter with aliens.” These puns provide brief levity to a serious matter. Also, I found one statistic to be quite powerful; 99% of the species in San Francisco, by weight, are foreign. An impressive and powerful statistic that ends an informative documentary.