Two-thirds of the world’s population could face a shortage of water by 2050. This is a crisis that affects more than the poorest and most developing countries. But it also speaks to our ethics, and our responsibilities to one another, says Patrick Aryee host of Evolve. The new nature documentary-series will be available on Curiosity Stream, which premiered on January 27.
Aryee, a host on Evolve, introduces viewers to a Namibian desert beetle that uses its bumpy body as a way to let fog droplets down into its mouth. It is fascinating to see, but Aryee is more than just showing us nature. The series focuses on biomimicry which teaches us from animals how to make a sustainable life for humans.
Beyond the beetle he has solutions for modern problems, from giraffes and mushrooms to the proteins in squid tooth, which can be used as an environmentally sound and strong glue.
Aryee is a scientist with a background in molecular biology and cellular biology. He has been working on nature documentaries in Britain for years. He was previously a researcher for David Attenborough, and also hosted a podcast and wrote a book called 30 Animals That Make Us Smarter.
He spoke via video about why it is important, his favourite segments and what he hopes to include in a sequel.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
Q. You’ve been working on nature documentaryaries for over a decade. What attracted you to this field from science?
One of my biggest inspirations growing up in the ’90s was a show in Britain called Tomorrows World. Imagine Bill Nye, the Science Guy, having a magazine show. I recall an episode on stem cells, and another on broadband, which would have allowed us to download content much faster.
It means a lot that I can be a storyteller and tell these stories. I love being able go out into the field. I love meeting people. While I love to share my knowledge and experiences, I also enjoy being surprised and being honest about not knowing something. I see myself as a curious friend. Im out there, and now Im your mate and Im going to tell it down at the pub.
Q. Biomimicry is a key to sustainability. Why?
It feels like the completion of a circle. These are Mother Natures blueprints. They look like Leonardo da Vincis drawings. They are 3.8 Billion years old, and they have been there all along. We finally found the book and are now opening it, saying, Wow! There is so much here.
The world we live is controlled by money. So I wanted to create a show about bricks made from mushroom mycelium bricks. They are lighter than traditional bricks, but stronger to say, Hey! We can preserve wild spaces and the fauna, fungi, and flora. It will save us all, and it will be good for business.
It feels like the future.
Q. Q. How important was it that ideas were practical in the medium- and short-term?
We were conscious of this. We wanted the show’s ideas to feel real. Not just wishful thinking or hyperbole, like sci-fi. It was important to find a balance between the far-fetched ideas that allow the audience to be wild and the stories that are real and can be applied today.
We had to include a segment about Ido Sella’s company ECOncrete. They create new products that alter or replace concrete along shorelines. [Concrete’s chemicals make the water more alkaline, harming some species; it also makes it difficult for some native species to survive on the shoreline while allowing invasive species to thrive.]
This is already happening. It’s a business, and Ido is involved in it.
I love being hands-on so the squid glue was a great choice. It’s easy to see in the actual sequence. I try to break the fourth wall, and include the sound guys to grab it and try to tear. It is a way to get the audience to feel like it’s happening.
I also enjoyed catching the bull Shark and helping it to be tagged. It was hard work but good fun. I was dripping. But I had to double-check that we were allowed to wrestle a bull shark. What are the ethics? I didn’t want to appear macho by doing a shark rodeo. We did our research and found that this is the best way to catch them. Tag them and take a sample of their blood. Then, we get them back.
Q. Q. Was this a conscious decision?
As a host, all I can do as a company is tell them how important this is. It is something I pay more attention to and something I am more accountable for, getting more representation on the screen. We did a good job in terms of diversity of age, race, and gender.
When scientists have many voices, we can tell a more complete story. It’s about the audience. People who are excited about science but don’t see themselves onscreen so they don’t believe it is for them. The story will resonate with children when they see someone like them or their families on screen. You will feel more connected if you feel that you are part of the story.
It was difficult to travel the world. We decided to focus on Namibia, one of my favorite places. It is beautiful. It’s hot and dry. This means that there are no mosquitos in Borneo. However, you might get bitten by the bumblebee-sized insects.
Frank Fish, a marine scientist turned professor, is one of my favourite stories. He discovered that you could get 30% more power by adding bumps at the leading edges to wind turbines. He saw a model of flippers for humpback whales and came up with the idea of adding bumps to wind turbines. We have always imagined turbines with smooth levels, just like wings. But, if nature has bumpy leading edge, he wondered why we didn’t try it. Whale Power is a company that has been studying this. I would love to be in the water with the humpback whales and see the turbines.
Tonga has a great humpback whale migration, which would have been my dream. You can see how Tonga was affected by the tsunamis. This ties in with the stories we told about imitating nature to learn how to read eruptions and tsunamis.