Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Special Reports

CNN International: Going Green: CNN Goes Across the Globe to Show How Citizens are Helping Save the Environment. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired December 19, 2020 - 06:00   ET




UNKNOWN (voice-over): Our planet is facing unprecedented challenges.

UNKNOWN: These little guys are used to make any plastic products.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): The problems are visible, the solutions less so. From the health of our oceans to the durability of our forests -

DR. GUNTER FISCHER, HEAD OF CONSERVATION DEPARTMENT, KADOORIE FARM AND BOTANIC GARDEN: We have to learn more how to use our resources in a sustainable way without depleting them completely.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Creating sustainable agriculture practices and protecting some of our most unique animals.

DAVID MILARCH, FOUNDER, ARCHANGEL ANCIET TREE ARCHIVE: No one has ever built an (inaudible) forest anywhere or anytime in this history of the world. We're doing that here.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Around the globe, extraordinary individuals are taking action and encouraging others to do their part to save the planet by going green.

RAY JANSEN PANGOLIN SCIENTIST, TSHWANE UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY: We have an opportunity, a very small window to turn this all around, but it needs to be a collective, humanitarian effort.



UNKNOWN (voice-over): We begin in South Africa, which is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but it is also ranked as one of the planet's worst plastic marine polluters, creating an environmental crisis on its shoreline.

AANIYAH OMARDIEN, FOUNDER, THE BEACH CO-OP: Our oceans are integral to our health, and it's a very much part of the hydrological cycle, our hydrocommons, and it's important that we care for it, so that we can breathe oxygen, so that we can eat fish, so that we can have healthy water to feed our crops, so that we can in turn eat.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Aaniyah Omardien is a surfer and a conservationist in Cape Town. In 2015, she founded the volunteer-based Beach Co-op to clean popular beaches every new moon, but she wanted The Beach Co-op to have a long-term impact by identifying the types of rubbish and weighing its mass according to a method.

OMARDIEN: The dirty dozen methodology, which is a methodology we use on sandy beaches and here at the rocky shore to document what we're finding, and the dirty dozen are the top 12 most commonly-found items on our beaches.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): During 100 clean ups, The Beach Co-op has picked up over 35,000 sweet wrappers, nearly 33,000 cool drink lids, and over 25,000 straws. The dirty dozen methodology was designed by Professor Peter Ryan, a Cape Town ornithologist and leading researcher on marine plastic waste.

PETER RYAN, DIRECTOR, THE FITZPATRICK INSTITUTE OF African ORNITHOLOGY: We've just done some really interesting work during the lockdown now where we looked at litter coming out of an urban river in Cape Town, and almost all of it washed up within 5,500 meters of the mouth of the river.

So, if you just clean the beach around the mouth of rivers as we saw earlier today, that can make quite a significant impact on the amount of plastic that actually gets up out into the ocean.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): For years, Peter has been scouting out the shore line like a detective, picking things up, turning them over.

RYAN: The barcodes typically have a country code at the beginning so you can tell which country it comes from. It's pretty obvious from (ph) South Africa.

So this was a little bread tag that I picked up off an urchin the other day which was made in 2003. So that's been drifting around on the bottom of the bay. Again, this is a plastic that's more dense than seawater. It's probably styrene, so it's been drifting around in the ocean for close on 20 years, and then it's been washed back up onto the shoreline.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): But it's bottles and their lids that carry a particularly interesting message from deep waters.

RYAN: So this is a really common Chinese water brand. You can see it's beautifully (ph) fresh lid. It's come off a ship whereas this is the most common water brand in Indonesia. You can see that lid's been through the ringer. It's been chewed by fish. It's got little animals growing on it, and this has drifted all the way across the Indian Ocean from Indonesia.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): That's 10,000 kilometers away from Cape Town, so while most of the rubbish on the coast is from land-based sources, particularly on beaches near cities, the plastic pandemic remains a global challenge.


RYAN: We think that these are land-based litter that's coming out of the Indonesian islands and traveling across the Indian Ocean and we find them all the way up to Kenya and Somalia along the East African coast. It's littered with lids and other rubbish from Indonesia.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Peter advises The Beach Co-Op. Today, he and Aaniyah are confronted by a spill of micro plastics, tiny plastic pellets called nurdles, which are the raw materials used by industry to make larger items. Hundreds of thousands have washed up on Cape beaches.

OMARDIEN: People have been trying to coordinate where we drop off these nurdles, and we're wanting to document where they have found the nurdles and the dates. And we're hoping to collect all of that and weigh it and take it to a plant to be used to make bricks with the plastic nurdles.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): It's much easier to collect bigger rubbish. It's these smaller bits of plastic that poses serious and lasting problem for marine life.

RYAN: I think the real reason why people are very concerned is around the ingestion problems, as small bits of plastic being eaten by organisms and that being potentially a vector for nasty compounds coming with the plastic, which can have various deleterious (ph) effects on the animals that eat the plastic.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Mining plastic pollution for data, the surface and the scientist in South Africa are fighting for more than a pristine coastline.

OMARDIEN: So, it really gives the citizens an opportunity to engage with what they're finding and to hopefully change their behavior, so that they bring less of that plastic into their own homes and eventually place pressure on manufacturers of plastic to change how they produce the plastic we end up buying.



UNKNOWN (voice-over): Omardien isn't the only one who wants to engage for change. Further inland we met another green pioneer working outside South Africa's biggest city to save one of the most endangered animals on Earth.

Quiet, shy, and rare; pangolins are the only mammal covered in scales. And in Asia and Africa, the demand for their flesh and scales used in some traditional medicines, makes the pangolin one of the most heavily poached animals on earth.

RAY JANSEN, PANGOLIN SCIENTIST, TSHWANE UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY: They harvest them at unprecedented rates and at rates that are unsustainable to all eight species. The threat is so large that they could all be faced with the levels of extinction pretty soon.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Ray Jansen is a renown pangolin scientist and the chairman of the African Pangolin Working Group. The organization works to stop the illegal trade of pangolins in South Africa while providing pangolins with a safe place to get better.

Rescued pangolins are taken here to the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital.

KARIN LOURENS, CO-FOUNDER, THE JOHANNESBURG WILDLIFE VETERINARY HOSPITAL: So when they come, they've often been in a bag or a drum kept for two weeks without food or water. So all of them are compromised. You can imagine being in a basement for two weeks without food or water.

The minute they come we let them out and they walk around, and you can see whether they're limping. They should be both -- walking on both hind legs all the time. If they walk on all fours or the tail is dragging, it's quite bad.

His feet are also very soft. Normally they're like elephant feet, nice and hard. A very big problem with them is their lungs are like baby elephants, baby rhinos; two weeks after you get them, they get pneumonia. It's very similar with pangolins. So we have to treat that as well.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Once the pangolin is stabilized and discharged from the vet, it's moved offsite for security reasons. It then begins its long journey to be released back into the wild.

JANSEN: It's not just put something back into the bush and saying good luck because they absolutely trip out. They can't handle it. It's a soft process.

But the African species, and in particular the Southern African species -- the one we get in South Africa, the Temminck's pangolin, they don't feed in captivity at all.

So, these animals need to forage naturally. And so, we get volunteers at the hospital, pangolin walkers we call them. They can walk for anywhere from three to seven hours in an evening behind a pangolin in an area where they can forage naturally on - on (ph) some termites.

For a week to 10 days, they're eased into their release areas. They're monitored long term, up to a year with satellite transmitters as well as VHF transmitters. They're weighed and checked daily, twice a day for three weeks, and then once a week for three months. And then once every two weeks for the remaining six, seven months.

And our success now has improved from round about 50-60 percent to well over 80 percent.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Still these experts know they're fighting an uphill battle.

NANCY WRIGHT, CO-FOUNDER JOHANNESBURG WILDLIFE VETERINARY HOSPITAL: When you hear about how many tons of pangolin scales are sent through to Asia, that sort of takes the wind out of your sails a little bit, and you start feeling a bit panicky around the edges because you've almost got that sense that you're sitting in a -- in a very historic position, as far as the species goes or the order goes.

So, when I start feeling a bit overwhelmed like that, what I do is just concentrate on the different pangolins that we've got in the -- in our care and doing the releases and thinking, well you're OK and you're OK, this one's OK. And that's how I get through it.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Perhaps the plight of the pangolin and efforts to save them can serve as an urgent warning, our planet is fragile and more needs to be done to save them from distinction.

JANSEN: I think we have an opportunity, a very small window to turn this all around. But it needs to be a collective humanitarian effort -- and not an individual, not a race, not a culture, not an isolated effort, but a global effort, from one species, mankind.




UNKNOWN (voice-over): Hong Kong, it's one of the most crowded cities on Earth, with around 7.5 million residents living on less than 280 square kilometers or 107 square miles.

In the urban jungle, it can be easy to forget that there's another side to Hong Kong. Almost half of Hong Kong is green, but thousands of years ago even plant life existed here.

Over the past few hundred years, Hong Kong lost swaths of woodland according to Austrian born conservationist Dr. Gunter Fischer.

DR. GUNTER FISCHER, HEAD OF FLORA CONSERVATION DEPARTMENT, KADOORIE FARM AND BOTANIC GARDEN: In the past it was common to clear forest for agriculture lands or urbanization and so on. When the British arrived in the last century, Hong Kong was known as a barren rock.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Then came World War II, where the occupying Japanese cut down more trees to use for fuel.

FISCHER: It was clear that a large part of Hong Kong needs to be restored with forest.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): In the 1970s the Hong Kong government launched a program to restore the region's lost woodlands. Fischer is one of many conservationists who continue this work.

FISCHER: Our main goal is to restore the upper hillsides of Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden to the original forest which covered Hong Kong many, many thousand years ago.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): On Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong's highest peak, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden has turned the sparse upper slopes from this into this


FISCHER: What we see here is a secondary forest which has recovered the last 50 years.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Today, Fischer and his team are going beyond planting just any trees. They're reintroducing rare native plants, some the last few of their kind in Hong Kong.

FISCHER: The number of extremely rare plant species, especially trees, have been brought into cultivation. I think it really contributes a lot to conservation and saving these species from extinction.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): It takes a lot more work.

FISCHER: This is a rare species.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Field trips to the remote reaches of Hong Kong to locate new species, protecting vulnerable saplings from extreme weather and pruning the trees as they grow.

The entire process can take decades, but Fischer says it increases the tree's chance of survival from 3 to 96 percent. And with a budding forest, comes a habit for other life.

FISCHER: So one of our biggest projects is on wildlife rescue. So we've got a wildlife rescue center here, which takes injured animals from the country parts and roadsides. So local organizations will bring injured animals to us and our veterinary hospital, the vet will check them, and then if they're healthy enough, they can be released.

One of the interesting aspects we can see in our forest restoration plots is the interaction between plants and animals. So planting a high diversity of different plants species triggers the recolonization of the new forest with more life. And it's very interesting and fascinating to monitor this over time to see how the forest is changing and life is coming back.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): At Kadoorie Farm, a glimpse into the wildlife that could return as a different Hong Kong skyline begins to emerge.



UNKNOWN (voice-over): Across the Pacific Ocean, scientists and climbers are working to preserve the tallest organisms on Earth. All based on one man's ambitious plan to share the magic of the Redwood forests.

D. MILARCH: Every time I walk into a (inaudible) forest, it's like the same feeling as if when I walk into a cathedral. There's an automatic reverence, there's a feeling that these are much bigger, much older, and even wiser than I am.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): David Milarch is on a mission to show the world the wonder of trees. His nonprofit, Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, searches out the world's most iconic trees and clones them, using their DNA. The aim is to create a living library of old growth tree genetics so future scientists can study their benefits.

So far, his organization claims to have cloned more than 100 champions, the largest and oldest specimens of a particular tree species.

But he says no matter where he goes, one tree stands above the rest.

D. MILARCH: Everywhere we go people love their trees, especially the trees that grow in their area. But there's only one tree that seems to be magical, and universal in that magic in their appeal and their draw. Everybody wants to know about the Redwoods.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): The Redwoods are the tallest trees on Earth. They can grow to more than 115 meters tall and live for more than two millennia. These giants are found only on a thin 700-kilometer band along the coast of northern California and southern Oregon, which Milarch says is part of the problem.

D. MILARCH: There's only about 5 percent of the old growth Redwoods left. And nobody, nobody, cloned any of those great trees before they cut them down and shipped them off.

We came along about 10 years ago and said, hey, listen, there's much of this stuff left. Why don't we try and clone the world's biggest and oldest Redwoods?

UNKNOWN (voice-over): That effort began in earnest about a decade ago. In the beginning, there was widespread doubt that a 2,500-year-oldtree could even be cloned.

After several failures, Milarch and his son, Jake, realized they would need to go further and higher than others had gone before.

In order to get the best samples for cloning, climbers like Jake would need to go to the very tops of the trees looking for that year's new growth, the best material for propagation.

JAKE MILARCH, DIRECTOR OF PROPAGATION, ARCHANGEL ANCIENT TREE ARCHIVE: Yes, that's usually right on top of the tree, right up growing in the clouds, in the midst. We'll collect small samples, maybe a couple of freezer gallon bags of material then we'll take them back to our laboratory, whether it be grating, tissue culture, or vegetative propagation, we can then produce new trees from just a small amount of samples.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): The work to propagate the new trees takes place far away in a tiny village more than 4,000 kilometers from where the samples were taken. This old converted warehouse in Copemish, Michigan has become home to thousands of redwoods and other champion tree species thanks to a process known as tissue culture.

Tissue culture is a micro propagation technique that involved exposing plant tissue to a specific regimen of nutrients, hormones, and light under sterile conditions. Scientists are able to quickly produce thousands of new plants, each an exact copy of the original. The plants grow in a climate-controlled environment with the team ensuring they get the proper amount of heat, light, and moisture.

D. MILARCH: I know it'll be hard for you to imagine, but I'm holding a 1,000-year-old coast Redwood.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): It's thought the Redwoods first appeared more than 200 million years ago, but it's only in the last 200 years or so that persistent logging and the mounting effects of climate change have put the future survival of the giant trees in jeopardy.

That forced Milarch and his team comprised largely of volunteers to come up with a bold idea, embarking on a new project to move the redwood forest to a more suitable climate through a plan he calls assisted migration.

D. MILARCH: We're cloning trees, preserving their genetics, and we're sending this out, shipping these out, and we're starting to rebuild the first old growth forest in the history of the world.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): The plan includes enlisting an army of volunteers around the world to help plant these magnificent trees and give them a better chance at long-term survival.

The global pandemic has slowed down their ambitious plans a bit, but Milarch remains adamant though he admits he is going to need help.

D. MILARCH: We know that Redwoods thrive in Chile. We know they thrive in New Zealand. I've seen them thriving in Ireland. I've seen magnificent Redwoods at WindsorCastle in England. We know that they thrive in British Columbia.

You don't have to have any money to do it. You don't have to have a college degree to do it. You just have to have a willingness to take a more intelligent view of what trees do for us, can do for us, and take action.



UNKNOWN (voice-over): Mauritius is a picturesque island nation located in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometers off the coast of Africa. It's there we find Farm City, a small social enterprise started by a tech entrepreneur that's changing the way Mauritians look at farming.

Wesley Oxenham is Mauritian born but moved to the U.S. in 2012. He was living in the San Francisco Bay area working in the tech industry when he says he began to feel unwell.


WESLEY OXENHAM, CO-FOUNDER, FARM CITY: At some point, I felt sick and we decided to go back home. While we were in Mauritius, we tried to figure out what was the cause of the sickness and everything led to a food related issue.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Oxenham says he never got a clear diagnosis, but he believes his illness had to do with the foods he was eating, and he believes eating organic food helped him feel better.

OXENHAM: While we were looking for proper good food, we found out that nowhere it was being grown (ph), and so we had to start growing ourselves. And just like that, we started as farmers.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Today, Farm City claims to grow around 30 types of vegetables from leafy greens and root crops as well as an array of fruit.

OXENHAM: The best way to start our community was to make sure that organic food was available at a price that no supermarket was selling.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): In order to offset the cost of subsidizing their produce, Oxenham and his team ask farmers to pay what they can afford and raise money through various community events.

Much of the produce is sold directly to the public, which helps fund programs that get children excited about farming.

OXENHAM: What else are very good you have in a -- in a garden. Butterflies.

Today we have children from five to six years old and we teach them mainly through activities. So it's playful learning and the program is really the introduction to what they're going to learn in school throughout the whole year.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Just as Farm City was gearing up for their year, the global pandemic dealt a devastating blow. Oxenham says an emergency required him and his wife to travel to Singapore, where they remain today.

OXENHAM: While we were in Singapore, we -- we got caught in-between two lockdowns from Mauritius and Singapore. We are very glad to have staff that stepped up and they helped us manage the Mauritius farm.

In Singapore when we saw the demand from the community wanting to grow, wanting to learn how to grow. We decided to set up a second farm in Singapore. The silver lining, I would say in COVID, is that people do want to learn how to cook. And this is -- I would say, the -- a good sign after this pandemic.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): From tech entrepreneurs to tree climbers, veterinarians, scientists, and surfers, were all working to ensure the natural world is here for the next generations to enjoy.