Ella Al-Shamahi On Hosting The BBC Earth Docu-Series Changing Planet

With precious ecosystems in danger, the world is on the cusp of an evolutionary change.

Recognizing this transformation, BBC Earth has embarked on a visionary project to document our planet’s evolution over the next seven years. This remarkable docu-series highlights a pivotal moment in Earth’s history with eyewitness accounts across the world.

in Changing Planet, BBC Earth showcases how the future of our precious ecosystems is changing. Explored through local eyewitnesses in six vulnerable locations – Iceland, the Amazon, California, Kenya, the Maldives and Cambodia, the documentary reveals the hard-hitting truths that many are not aware off.

The series is a start of a visionary project to document how our planet evolves over the next several years. It also asks the important questions of how these changes will impact the world and its population.

How are California’s animal rescuers coping with increasing wildlife casualties? What impact will increasingly frequent droughts have on Kenya’s growing human population and wildlife? Are the Icelandic people and wildlife adapting to the disappearance of their glaciers? More than a record of change, the series also offers hope. Meet the scientists, indigenous groups, and conservationists fighting to save these iconic places for the future.

Ella Al-Shamahi on location in Tonle Sap

Returning every year for seven years, BBC Earth’s Changing Planet reveals each location’s battle and asks if we are doing enough to save our planet from irreversible change. Explorer, paleoanthropologist and evolutionary biologist, Ella Al-Shamahi stands at the forefront of the new series.

Her eyewitness account on site in Cambodia tackles the importance of river basin protection. Ahead of the premiere of the series, Ella Al-Shamahi unveils what audiences can expect from Changing Planet.

What do you believe is so captivating about this new series?

Six locations over seven years, that is the bit that captivates me the most, it feels like Seven Up! but for the planet. It is so important for us to see how various global locations change over not just over a couple of years.

TV shows are usually just focused on one or two locations and it is quite unusual to film for more than a few months, so to keep coming back, well we get to see what is really happening. We also get to see how all the heroes and champions fighting to protect their environment do, so often we film with someone, root for them and then leave. This way we actually get to follow their story, their struggle and hopefully (we can all hope right) their success.

Were there any standout or memorable sequences for you whilst filming?

Eating a snake. Honestly I still can’t eat anything with lemongrass in it! However I didn’t really want to offend people. Not only because it is a delicacy in Cambodia but more importantly because I was a guest and these folks were eating it because they were really poor.

They lived on a lake (literally) and yet because of dams they now had so few fish, they needed to supplement their diet. So field rats and snake, which were previously only occasionally eaten, now form part of the main diet and they keep a bucket of snakes in their house. So me coming from a well off country sticking my nose up too much at eating snake seemed awful, so awful and I had to hold it in… but my whole body was really uninterested in eating snake.

Ella Al-Shamahi BBC Earth Changing Planet
Eating snake with Cambodian locals

So it was a difficult one to balance. But honestly there were so many sequences. To be honest we came across so much it was hard to decide what we should include. Speaking to the communities on the Tonle Sap lake was extraordinary. Sometimes when you talk to the family of environmental champions, you get more insights, they tell you how this hero can’t sleep because he is constantly worried about his community and the environmental damage.

Rescued animals are always humbling and hearing their stories just tugs at every heart string. Imagine being a pangolin, ready to be eaten, somehow escaping in a busy capital city and then wandering across someone who sends you to a rescue centre? Bless.

Did you have a favorite location? How long did you spend on location?

I enjoyed the lake because of the birdwatching. The Tonle Sap lake is extraordinary for water birds. I’m usually less excited about water birds but I lost it with excitement out there as it is one of the best birdwatching spots in Southeast Asia. It’s hard to not get excited when there are that many birds, and there are that many species and they look, well extraordinary!

What positive changes are you anticipating takes place each year?

Hmm this is difficult, I guess I hope that China, in particular, considers the impact of its dams, especially now the data is accumulating. At the end of the day this will affect them too. I am also hopeful about the world of the Wildlife Alliance, if they actually re-introduce tigers… well we will be there.

What do you hope viewers will take away from watching Changing Planet?

Usually you hope that people see how amazing our world is and feel the need to protect it, but then you kind of leave them. This series is different because it is a long term project so it gives the audience an opportunity to invest, so I hope they invest in these stories, because if they do that, the places we visit again and again, they stand more of a chance .

That can be what happens when a show forces eyes on a location for many years. I also hope that beyond the dam situation, beyond the Wildlife Alliance’s noble attempts to protect the animals in the Cardamom rainforest, that the stories in Cambodia highlight that no country is an island, not metaphorically. What our neighbors do impacts on us and what we do impacts on them. It’s not enough for a few countries to be thinking about the environment, we are all in this together.

BBC Earth’s Changing Planet premieres on Sunday, 31st July at 9pm, on StarHub channel 407, Singtel channel 203 and BBC Player

(Images: BBC Studios)

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