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Dogwoof Pictures

The best (and scariest) environmental documentaries

From dolphin genocide to garbage island, these docs expose the dark truth of our planet’s biggest threats

71% of the earth’s surface is made of water, and the internet holds a similar amount of environmental documentaries. With so much uncharted territory beneath the waves, there’s still so much we don’t know about the enormous ocean that surrounds us. Luckily there are some filmmakers out there who dedicate their lives to making fascinating documentaries arming us with all the information we need. To honour World Oceans Day, we’ve saved you the trawling and rounded up ten of the best environmental docs to give you a crash course on planet earth's most urgent threats.

THE COVE (2009)

"The dolphin's smile is nature's greatest deception: it creates the illusion they're always happy," says dolphin expert Ric O'Barry, the same man who trained Flipper. If there ever was a seat-of-your-pants thriller about dolphin genocide – this is it. Go undercover with Ric and his team as their covert operation attempts to expose the Japanese villains who slaughter dolphins and pass off the meat as tasty lunch meat in this shocking doc. No wonder Rolling Stone called the film "a cross between Flipper and The Bourne Identity."


The Simpsons may treat nuclear waste as a bit of a LOL, but in reality the stuff is super dangerous and has to be stored somewhere no one will touch it in the 100,000 years it takes to decompose. How do you build a structure that will remain intact for such a long amount of time? More importantly, how do you label the waste within with adequate signs that warn future civilisations that it’s lethal chemicals, not ancient buried treasure? This documentary attempts to answer these and more questions, taking you deep inside the earth for a sobering look at how we bury our problems.


Seeing where all our delicious food actually comes from is usually far from appetizing. Here, director Nikolaus Geyrhalter lifts the lid on high-tech farming and industrial food production. However, the story is neutrally delivered without narrative or comment and with gorgeous, extensive shots. Apart from the bit in the slaughterhouse, obvs.

GASLAND (2010)

Gasland is one of the most highly-regarded documentaries on one of the world’s most talked-about environmental issues: fracking. Filmmaker Josh Fox, who was personally affected by the toll fracking took on the land around his home in Pennsylvania, took matters into his own hands and turned out a film that was later nominated for Best Documentary at the 2011 Academy Awards.


This film genuinely turned three people I know into vegetarians. Kicking off with some grisly footage of whales being tortured and killed, the film then moves on to unearth the story of Tilikum, a traumatised whale who performed at SeaWorld. Turns out Tilikum was so poorly treated he took out his revenge on one of his trainers. Sounds like a crap horror film right? Wrong – it’s actually a factually correct non-fiction film, but still totally horrifying. Especially the bit where Tilikum is caught on CCTV actually torturing a man in a pool.


Doubters be like, "There is no garbage island the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean!" Here to prove them wrong are the filmmakers who donned some noseplugs and hopped on a boat to capture the garbage patch on film so we didn't have to. Disclaimer: don't watch this if you don't like footage of dead birds being sliced open to reveal loads of plastic bags and bottle tops.


Follow rather dishy shark expert Rob Stewart under the sea so he can show you the true nature of the ocean's scariest residents. Stewart debunks the myths as well as pointing out how brainy sharks are (try to block out harrowing memories of Deep Blue Sea). The doc also shines a light on how poorly sharks are treated and why it's so important we take the time to care for our hungry, toothy chums.


Everyone's a sucker for footage of icebergs crashing into the sea narrated by old men wrapped up in Patagonia jackets. With that in mind, follow explorer and glaciologist Luc Jacquet (of March of the Penguins fame) to the polar ice caps which he uses to predict man's effect on nature and the future of our beautiful planet.


When half a million people in India were left with health defects after being exposed to toxic gas, the Yes Men highlighted the responsible plant’s attempt to get away with it by posing as them live on the BBC and stating that they were liquidating the firm and giving the $12 billion to those affected. When the firm found out about the hoax and retracted the money they lost $2 billion in shares. If nothing else, these guys are really talented at making costumes and inventing new names for themselves, which is just as important as bringing down major corporations, right?


Western demand for tuna and sushi rocketing in the last decade has taken a big old toll on the ocean. This documentary seeks to provide hard-hitting facts and relatively simple solutions as to how we can combat over-fishing and prevent entire species being wiped out for good. Watch this first, drunkenly queue for half-price sushi later.