Waterbear is the free ‘Netflix for nature documentaries’, allowing viewers to take action as they watch

Jessie Thompson
·4-min read
<p>A still from 2012 documentary Chasing Ice, which will stream on Waterbear</p> (James Balog/Extreme Ice Survey)

A still from 2012 documentary Chasing Ice, which will stream on Waterbear

(James Balog/Extreme Ice Survey)

Remember the last time you watched a David Attenborough documentary and weren’t utterly incapacitated by doom? No, me neither. Thankfully, those days may be over: a new streaming platform – essentially a free Netflix for nature and wildlife films – launches next week, and it encourages viewers to take action while they watch.

Waterbear is the very first streaming platform totally dedicated to the future of our planet, supported by over 80 global NGOs including Greenpeace, WWF and The Jane Goodall Institute. It’s free to join and will feature a selection of both original and curated content, diving into the awe-inspiring natural world and the challenges it faces.

But it’s the platform’s in-built interactivity hub that makes it truly unique, allowing those of us watching at home to actually do something about the issues on our screen. Here, tools are provided to turn audiences into activists, such as the ability to make direct donations to NGOs, volunteer or book sustainable travel experiences.

The fact that it’s completely free to join and watch means the platform is accessible for both budding nature lovers and fully-fledged climate activists alike. All of the content will be available to watch around the world from December 1 – we’ve picked out a few of the highlights that you can expect.

End of the Line

This shocking film by Rupert Murray was the first to expose the consequences of overfishing, predicting that we will have exhausted the ocean’s stocks by 2050. It looks why this has happened – a growing western obsession with sushi has brought the bluefin tuna to near extinction, for example – but also who caused it, pointing the finger squarely at politicians and celebrity chefs.

The Last Honey Hunter

Not for the faint-hearted: in this short documentary, one man climbs up a cliff-face on a rope ladder, amid a hive of bees, all in the name of gathering rare psychotropic honey. He’s not just doing it for fun, obviously. Mauli Dhan is from the Kulung community in Nepal, who believe that only the person who has had a special dream can harvest honey without invoking the wrath of a spirit called Rongkemi. It’s a fascinating story, told through truly daring filmmaking.

Not a Pet

Anyone who watched Tiger King on Netflix earlier this year will know that the selling of exotic animals into ill-suited environments is a deeply disturbing problem. The documentary Not A Pet highlights how the illegal trade of cheetahs as pets - increasingly flaunted as a status symbol on social media by very rich people - is accelerating their position as an endangered species. With 300 cubs stolen from the wild each year and only 7,500 remaining in the wild, the numbers are stark, before taking into account that for every 5 cubs stolen, only one usually survives.

Chasing Ice

<p>James Balog’s documentary is a startling wake-up call about the speed of melting ice</p>Waterbear

James Balog’s documentary is a startling wake-up call about the speed of melting ice

Waterbear

First released in 2012, this award-winning documentary made it urgently clear just how fast the world’s glaciers are disappearing. Environmental photographer James Balog was once something of a sceptic about climate change, but a bold expedition to the Arctic changed everything. Using time lapse cameras, he gathered evidence of the scary speed at which the ice is melting.

The Pollinators

If one part of an ecosystem is in trouble, the whole thing is: honeybees are a stark example of this. Their ability to pollinate the fruit and vegetables that we eat is vital, but in America half of their colonies are dying every year. This documentary, released last year, looks at the threats faced by honeybees and the solutions that could save them.

The Hunt for Medals, Not Lions

<p>The Maasi Olympics put conservation first while preserving traditions</p>Waterbear

The Maasi Olympics put conservation first while preserving traditions

Waterbear

It was a rite of passage for men in the Maasai culture to kill a lion to prove their bravery and become a warrior. When the local lion population began to decrease, elders from the tribe worked together with the Big Life Foundation to come up with the Maasi Olympics, enabling traditions to be preserved but conservation put first. This short film captures how they did it.

Africa’s Hidden Sea Forest

This new film features Craig Foster – who you may recognise from Netflix’s My Octopus Teacher – and journalists Swati Thiyagarajan and Pippa Ehrlich, all on a quest to swim in the cold waters of the great African sea forest and discover more about it.

Nations United

This film was created to mark two occasions: 75 years of the United Nations, and five years since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (aimed at creating a more sustainable future by 2030). That it ended up being made and released in the midst of a pandemic is an indication of just how many challenges the world continues to face. Burna Boy and Beyoncé provide the music, with Thandie Newton, Forest Whitaker and Malala Yousafzai among those making an appearance alongside UN Secretary-General António Guterres and UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed.

Waterbear launches on December 1, sign up at waterbearnetwork.com