Volume 14, Issue 6 ~ February 9 - February 15, 2006

Got an Environmental Question? Send it to: EARTH TALK, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. Or submit your question at: www.emagazine.com. Or e-mail us at: earthtalk@emagazine.com.
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Does Survivor Make for Green Reality?

Voluntary castaways tread lightly on fragile ecosystems

I really enjoy the various Survivor TV series, but what is the environmental impact of such productions on their remote locales?

—Rachel Maxwell, Port Washington, NY

When Survivor first aired in the summer of 2000, environmental groups cheered producers for choosing nature as the setting for such a high profile series. By the time the series was only a year old, it was garnering green praise from all over, including from Australian environmental officials, who played host during the show’s second season.

Ian Sinclair of the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Water, said in an interview at the time, “The impacts were pretty minimal. All rubbish was removed. No vegetation was destroyed. The tracks and the bare area that were re-seeded are probably the only visible signs of impact.” But Survivor 2 was only granted use of the site on very strict terms, including protection of local flora and fauna as well as guarantees of waste cleanup. As Survivor competitor Colby Donaldson showed when he illegally picked up pieces of coral, such guarantees were sometimes dishonored, however unintentionally.

But bigger trouble began brewing for the show in 2001 in Kenya when a local land trust complained that vegetation and animals living in that country’s Shaba National Reserve — where that season was being filmed — were being disrupted by all the production-related activities. “The presence of more than 200 workers and the heavy commercial trucks busy supplying provisions and other operations in the reserve has scared away all the animals,” said a press release by Kenya’s Waso Trust Land Project. The story was carried in newspapers around the world, bruising the show’s otherwise spotless environmental reputation.

Since then, though, perhaps because of the flap, Survivor has been a more responsible environmental actor with each successive season, often garnering accolades from local government monitoring operations. Authorities in Thailand were skeptical about hosting American productions after crew from the film The Beach were charged with damaging one of the country’s most pristine national parks in 2000. But they were pleasantly surprised after Survivor’s producers displayed great environmental sensitivity when taping the show’s fifth season there. More recently, the government of Palau, where the series was set in 2004, reported that it found “no significant environmental impact [or] damage” from hosting Survivor.

Despite the show’s recent good track record during filming, some environmental groups are now concerned that Survivor’s popularity may well cause some of the pristine and far-flung locales where it is filmed to become overrun with tourism. In fact, the Palau Conservation Society has had to re-double efforts to manage tourism growth that has spiked since the island nation began hosting Survivor.

For more information:

• CBS Survivor Website: www.cbs.com/primetime/survivor/.

• Waso Trust Land Project, e-mail: wasotrustland@yahoo.com.

• Palau Conservation Society: www.palau-pcs.org.

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