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10 best nature documentaries on Netflix

“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty, the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” — Sir David Attenborough 

One cannot possibly talk about nature and the environment without referring to the famous naturalist Sir David Attenborough’s teachings. His innate love and tender affection towards nature and genuine hatred towards the destruction ravaged by man’s greed and consumerism is always palpable. “If we [humans] disappeared overnight, the world would probably be better off,” he said, “Ever since we arrived on this planet as a species, we’ve cut them down, dug them up, burnt them and poisoned them. Today we’re doing so on a greater scale than ever.” 

It is extremely true as, all over the world, people are oblivious to climate change and the impending doom it carries, instead merrily carrying on with their activities of deforestation, over-fishing, poaching, rapid urbanisation and more. They are oblivious to the imbalance in the ecosystem that will soon lead to a massive catastrophe. 

Documentaries are often rumoured to be boring and geeky. However, Netflix has been debunking such rumours by presenting extraordinarily shot and craftily engineered documentaries that straight up serve truths regarding the issues plaguing our world. Nature documentaries are both aesthetically pleasing and spine-chilling. While we marvel at the incredible beauty and vastness, and diversity that nature has to offer and coo at the adorable animals and birds inhabiting the planet, we cannot ignore the massive destruction our species impose on them one day at a time, pushing them to the verge of extinction. 

If you are looking for an insightful and knowledge-inducing Friday night within the comfort of your houses, stream these ten best nature documentaries on Netflix for a perceptive and enriching evening. 

10 best nature documentaries on Netflix:

10. Night on Earth (Edmund Butt, 2020)

This British nature documentary is fascinating as we get to experience the world of animals under cover of the night. Thanks to modern technology and new camera equipment, the documentary showcases the hidden and unknown world of the animals once they are wrapped in the protective darkness of the night. We see lions hunting to bats preying, and many more fascinating sights remain etched on our minds, making us marvel at the incredible earth. 

With groundbreaking cinematography, the documentary is insightful and captivating. The only problem is, however, the narration. Samira Wiley probably puts in a lot of effort, yet the monotone voice contrasts with the fascinating footage that unfurls before our eyes. The visuals are spectacular— they very cleverly infuse the darkness with certain colourful additions, making it a unique and excellent experience that helps open a totally new world to us. 

9. Birders (Otilia Portillo Padua, 2019)

This interesting documentary film is for the birdwatching enthusiasts out there. It documents how enthusiastic birdwatchers on both sides f the border of the US and Mexico bond over their love for birdwatching. They are genuinely passionate about birds and bear a lot of compassion and empathy when they want to discuss how to protect and preserve some of the most extraordinary and beautiful species in the world. It also elaborates on the migrant birds that kee travelling across the border every year.

 The documentary highlights the birds’ unbridled freedom as they do not adhere to borders constructed by men or man-made laws. The documentary celebrates and champions all the enthusiasts who work actively to advocate the rights of these species and fight to get back their natural habitat. If viewed from a political angle, the birds travelling across the border for migration can be seen as a commentary on immigrating for survival as well.

 8. Chasing Coral (Jeff Orlowski, 2017)

This documentary was shortlisted for the 2018 Academy Awards, and rightfully so. Vivid and descriptive, the cinematography deftly captures life underwater. After his gripping commentary on climate change with his 2012 documentary Chasing Ice, Orlowski returns with another important issue which revolves around the endangerment and rapid depletion of corals that are suddenly vanishing; a group of scientists, divers, photographers and marine life enthusiasts team up to set out on this gripping adventure to uncover the mystery behind the disappearance of corals. 

Corals are an integral part of marine life, and the film does an excellent job of elaborating on that. As soon as the coral nerd Zach Rago walks in, the film gains tempo. The destruction of coral reefs suddenly undercuts the stunning underwater visuals. Much like his previous scathing documentary, the film serves the hard-hitting truth by providing a glimpse into how and why maintaining the sanctity of the ecosystem is crucial to our existence. Although it has a tinge of immediacy and warning, the general optimism makes one believe that we still have time to act. 

7. Mission Blue (Fisher Stevens, Robert Nixon, 2014)

National geographic’s in-house explorer Dr Sylvia Earle is a veteran in her field. A marine biologist, author and explorer, she is on an unending quest to protect her beloved ocean and the aquatic life it hosts within from the notoriety of pollution, climate change and over-fishing. She campaigns to start a global network of all the marine sanctuaries, underwater national parks and more that are safe. The film follows her as she embarks on this noble journey for those who mean the most to her. 

The documentary helps expose the various disasters that lead to the decimation of innocent aquatic life, especially oil spills. It is astonishing and inspiring to watch the woman and her dream team race against the world’s cruelty to preserve and protect her beloved environment and “Hope Spots”. Not only does it focus on the facts about oceans, marine life and more, but also a commentary on Earle’s extensive research and relentless hard work to achieve her goals. It is very informative and heartfelt and tugs at the correct heartstrings by presenting a picturesque visual representation that is abruptly interrupted by the horrific images of an oil spill.  

6. A Plastic Ocean (Craig Leeson, 2016)

While investigating the lives of the elusive blue whales, journalist Craig Leeson is faced with an unwelcome reality where he finds the pristine waters of the ocean filled with plastic waste. Shocked, he is determined to make a change. Teaming up with a free diver named Tanya Streeter as well as a professional team of scientists and researchers, Leeson travels to twenty-odd locations all over the world in four years to record the sorry state of marine life. Revealing the destructive nature of plastic pollution, which slowly erodes marine life, he presents solutions to the immediate problem.  

Documentaries usually bring about a huge change in perspective, and this one does its job pretty well. It puts forward the gruesome images of how plastic-covered oceans have left no space for aquatic life to thrive underwater. The documentary hopes to urge humans to take accountability for their actions and redeem themselves before it is too late. With amazing visuals, the documentary is pretty informative and educative, bringing to notice a global disaster silently eating away at marine life. 

5. Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013) 

If you have been to SeaWorld before the conflicts arose, you have probably seen various tricks being performed by an orca. Needless to say, these silent creatures have to undergo brutal torture to fit the standards of the public aquariums and to be on display for the popcorn-stuffing public. The documentary revolves around the consequences of keeping orcas and killer whales captive, namely Tilium, which led to three deaths. The film documents how he was captured off the Icelandic coast in 1983 and harassed at the public aquarium by other captive orcas, which led to his violent aggression. 

The riveting tale portrays an impassioned yet harrowing story of robbing a creature of its habitat and forcing them into a lifestyle that leads to devastation. Craftily shot and documented, it is an exemplary take on Tilikum’s predicament and the events that led to the extreme stress that led this sentient creature to attack trainers. It is a scathing commentary on the sick mentality of humans to control nature which usually has catastrophic consequences. It serves the truth about captivity and the moral degradation of SeaWorld and other such public aquariums. As an orca researcher confirmed, “There is no record of an orca doing any harm to a human in the wild.”

4. Virunga (Orlando von Einsiedel, 2014)

Virunga National Park in Congo is the home to the world’s last mountain gorillas, and they are on the verge of extinction due to vicious poaching, wars, oil exploration and more. Four characters, including gorilla caretaker Andre Bauma, warden Rodrigue Mugaruka, chief warden Emmanuel de Merode, and an investigative journalist from France named Melanie Gouby, decide to unite and help protect the ones left in the national park. While documenting the splendid beauty of Virunga, the documentary focuses on the dauntless journey of conservation the four undertake amidst the economic and political rife and armed violence that plague the province.

The four try to carry on with their project of conservation amidst the M23 Rebellions of 2012. Mountain gorillas are magnificent, and it is endearing to watch the characters risk nearly everything to help protect these creatures. Gut-wrenching and extraordinary, the documentary is riveting and draws attention to the major issues plaguing the African continent. With notorious and uncouth villains, suspenseful plots, compassionate conservationists, endangered mountain gorillas and relentless violence, this docu-film is a must-watch for all. 

3. Our Planet (David Attenborough, 2019)

Nobody loves Mother Nature more than Sir David Attenborough, which fuels our admiration and awe towards this man. In this British mini-series made specifically for Netflix, Attenborough is kind enough to lend his voice to talk about the things that deserve his utmost adoration. It focuses on the variety and diversity of the habitats throughout the planet, stretching from the lonely Arctic wilderness to the mysterious depths of the oceans to the massive African landscape to the ominous South American jungles. 

One of Netflix’s first nature documentaries, Our Planet, also commands our focus on the impact of humans on the environment and the detrimental effects of climate change. Nature is breathtaking yet unforgiving and desolate, and the documentary presents the rawest side of the diversity surrounding the world. With incredible cinematography and descriptive narration, the documentary serves its purpose of ushering in the sense of urgency and awareness about the staggering depletion of flora and fauna due to consumerism, commercialisation, and climate change.

2. The Ivory Game (Richard Ladkani, Kief Davidson, 2016) 

The documentary revolves around the subject of elephants poached in Africa, leading to the illegal ivory trade in Hong Kong and China. The directors spend nearly sixteen months as undercover investigators to delve deeper into the subject of poaching elephants. They stumble upon illegal black markets, corrupt business personnel and other notorious poachers. In the film, wildlife activists unite and carry out sting operations against these criminals to end this brutal and unethical practice. 

The documentary demands immediate attention to an issue that is graver than it may seem. It alerts the inevitable extinction of elephants if the government fails to take up punitive measures. Insightful and perceptive, it sure does leave an indelible impact on the minds of nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. It is heartwrenching to watch such beautiful gigantic mammals being commodified and killed to benefit the greed of humans, inciting the appropriate enragement in the hearts of the audience. 

1. My Octopus Teacher (Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed, 2020)

This Academy Award-winning documentary film follows the journey of Craig Foster as he develops an unusual bond with a wild common octopus while free diving in a remote kelp forest in South Africa. Foster develops a mutual bond of friendship and trust, and as he plays with her, she allows him to enter her fascinating world in tandem and gives him an insight into how octopi survive. Her close encounters with the sharks and the guttural instinct for survival as well as mating leaves an indelible impact on Foster.

The bond he develops with the octopus makes him learn a lot about life in general. It is almost as if, with the octopus’ gradual demise, Foster’s education is finally complete. He has a clear understanding of survival, mortality, and the impact of humans on the integrity of the environment. His time with the octopus helps him develop a better understanding of his son as well. It is a touching story of the connectedness between two widely different species whose connection is probably at a cosmic level. As Foster says at the beginning of the film, “

A lot of people say an octopus is like an alien. But the strange thing is, as you get closer to them, you realise that we’re very similar in a lot of ways.”  

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