The End of “Nature Porn” and the beginning of Human Exclusion Zones: Why we simply need them, and we need them right now.

In the words of David Attenborough, “humans have overrun the planet”.  From climate change to the 6th Mass Extinction, we are the most invasive species this planet has ever seen.  More than the lion fish or other examples ecologists like to bring to mind.  Yet the study of ecology, of ecosystem balance, is a bit of an oxymoron given that it is being led by the very species that has broken every rule in the ecosystem book, a species that defies, expands and exceeds the very definition of what an aggressive, invasive species is in the first place.

In fact the term “invasive” isn’t adequate to describe humans.  Invasive species hijack an ecosystem’s resources, becoming super-predators that proceed to grow at the expense of others in the food chain.  At some point the ecosystem finds a way to curb the invasive species’ enthusiasm and “zest for life”, finding its Achilles heel.  Images of an octopus devouring a lion fish in the Mediterranean the other day brought me once more in awe of the incredible wonder of nature, who always finds a solution. Who would have expected that a soft, spineless predator would engulf a thorny tropical fish that looks like a fortress? Nature is more imaginative than humans will ever be, and holds all the answers to healing. It is looking through its arsenal already, trying to find a solution to the now urgent worldwide problem of the lion fish.

But it turns out that humans are not an invasive species after all.  They are a planetcidal species, because they don’t simply attack other species as food sources.   They actually take down the entire infrastructure that supports all of life on Earth: its climate.  But I would guess, since the discipline of ecology is run by humans, the term “planetcidal” will never be adopted by the scientific community to describe a species that is an exception (aberration?) to biological life as we know it.  “Planet-cidal” would be classified as an “emotional” or “political” terminology that doesn’t belong in science.  Too dramatic.  Maybe too inconvenient for the killers of the planet. Let’s use “planet-shaping” instead. Yeah, that sounds about right.

It seems to me that we need a wake up call as to what type of species we are.  What better way to achieve this than creating Human “no-go” zones, or Human Exclusion Zones:  an elevated form of the familiar to all of us National Park where, instead of humans being masters and Earth being a toy that they can admire, pet, photograph, play with and occasionally subject to genocide, they would be excluded.  Nature would have the prerogative to shut the door when it wants to, for the very first time in its history.  “Humans Out until I recover”.  “Leave me alone. I’m upset by what you did”.  “I don’t wanna talk to you as I’m not feeling well after our last encounter”.   These are the words that Nature would utter if it could speak human language.  Yet we still consider it non-sentient, just because it cannot speak English or order burgers online.  How arrogant of us to think that one species is smarter than an entire community of 8 million other species working together?  Again, your questions on a piece of paper to our human ecologists please.  I’m sure that they will wordsmith something boring and scientific that has been carefully crafted to weed out elements of compassion and other “feelings” that interfere with the scientific endeavour.

I think that if I ever had children, a visit outside the Human Exclusion Zones would be the perfect lesson for them. We would walk up to the border posts and look at the “no humans allowed past this point” signs.  I would tell my children that if humans continue to behave well, one day they may be able to walk past this point.  My children would learn first hand just how toxic a species we can be, we in fact have been so far.  It would be their first ever, non human-biased lesson in ecology: the hard truth.  Without the luxury of nature documentaries and David Attenborough narratives, I would want my children to understand in their hearts and minds that, as many films as we may try to shoot, as many stories as we may craft about the wonders of nature, we can never really capture the beauty, we can never really record everything.  I would rather leave my children let their imagination run wild with stories and fables of what the animals and plants get up to behind the “keep out” signs, than think for a minute that they know it all, own it all, and can see it all on their TV: a glamourized, human-shaped, bio-chauvinistic and specieistic narrative about Earth and its species that our human supremacy bias creates and reinforces.  Nature is not there to be filmed.  It wants to live, it wants to survive, it wants to be left alone, beyond the reach of digital cameras, colour filters and other technologies that objectify it, turn it into “nature porn”.  Nature does not need a PR firm, and it certainly doesn’t need our help and “protection”.  It knows how to heal itself, and it heals the fastest when left alone. 

Even the species that we do classify as “invasive” are not nature’s fault.  They are the result of human disturbance. Ever since the pandemic forced me to return to my beach hometown in Greece, I have started building a massive seashell collection.  As my collection expanded, and my Instagram following from other beachcombers, biologists and seashell amateurs like myself grew in size worldwide, I began to identify more and more “oddities” in my collection:  seashells that I don’t remember seeing in my childhood.  It turns out, it is because they are all recent arrivals to this beach.  Manila clams, Venerupis philipinarum, are now found all over Kalamitsa Beach in my northern Greek hometown of Kavala, most likely having escaped aquaculture.  You can also go fishing for giant Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs, a species that has invaded the Mediterranean all the way from the US.  Pearl oysters from the Indian ocean, Pinctada maxima, recognizable by their iridescent shells, have began making their appearance, most likely the result of fishing fleets travelling between my town and Egypt, close to the Suez canal where the oyster probably hitched a ride into the Mediterranean.  

The list goes on and on as I continue to find seashells that resemble those of my Instagram friends from far and exotic places like Florida, the Persian Gulf and who knows where else.  As climate change pushes vast wild populations of fish and molluscs into the biggest migration in their history, it appears that humans have already done their work for them.  Species have always migrated naturally.  But we have disturbed ecosystems with “migrant” species at a rate that is far too extreme and beyond any measure of “normal” ecosystem evolution. This is not good.

Pinctada maxima found on Kalamitsa Beach, Greece
Venerupis philipinarum found on Kalamitsa Beach, Greece
The famous Chesapeake Bay crab from Maryland, US, now available in Kalamitsa Beach

Human Exclusion Zones are the only solution.  Any ecological restoration or intervention by humans will always, however helpful and in the right direction, have a human bias: a patronizing approach where we think we understand the complexities of ecosystems to the point that we can “fix” them with a few surgical moves here and there.  In reality these are extremely complex systems which tend to shift and re-balance with every “surgical” move, just as you try to re-habilitate them. We are not God.  The ecosystem is, however.  The lion fish, an escapee from ornamental fish acquariums, only became invasive because of humans.  It is the perfect example of how humans’ voyeuristic, patronizing tendencies towards nature and the false stereotypes that accompany it, hide a truly dangerous, planetcidal enemy.

Human Exclusion Zones already exist in some ultra-protected areas. But they are too small, and not adequately policed, to safeguard the protection of the species that are imprisoned within their small confines. We can do better, and help Nature adapt – by itself – to the massive challenges that climate change is already bringing forth.

George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books

7 thoughts on “The End of “Nature Porn” and the beginning of Human Exclusion Zones: Why we simply need them, and we need them right now.

  1. The word that speaks to me is, “hijacking.” It’s exactly what humans have done and have done knowingly.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. I love your sharp focus. I have a question. I am one of those who love to collect pebbles. I took three beautiful circular flat green and white stones from a Pelion beach ten or twelve years ago, when the whole beach was covered with them, and very little sand showing. The same beach is now almost devoid of pebbles. All sand. My human intervention. I am guilty. I love those rocks. So apparently do hundreds of others. How do you justify your collection of shells, or do you take pictures and leave the shells? They will grind down to make the sand, if left…

      1. Thank you for responding. The stones have been taken by people like me. Speeding up the process of change. What was a beautifully pebbled beach free of furniture ten years ago, is now a sandy beach covered end to end with deckchairs and parasols. Good for local income. Not begrudging that.

      2. Exactly. My point. Once were pebbles and beauty. Now deckchairs and “hospitality industry”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s