There is not a strong tradition of science documentaries produced in Portugal, and even less of documentaries based on research carried out in Portuguese research centres. The new documentary, Nature’s Laboratories (Laboratórios da Natureza, in Portuguese), is thus a very welcome development, for both research and science communication. All the more so since it was awarded a Mention of Honour in the category “Ecology and Biodiversity” of the VIII International Festival of Tourism Cinema Art&Tur, which this year received 256 entries, from 54 differente countries.
The documentary follows five research projects and around 30 scientists from the University of Aveiro. It is being broadcast on SIC, one of the major television stations in Portugal.
In all, the documentary has five chapters: “Endangered marine species”, “Nanoparticles – the invisible dangers”, “The threat of multiresistant bacteria”, “The Lower Vouga – a biodiversity conservation area” and “Life in the deep ocean”.
It was imagined and written by Joaquim Pedro Ferreira and Paulo Caetano, who have published several popular science books, on biodiversity and nature. Their aim, with this documentary was to show how biologists contribute to the wellbeing of society and a better connection with the living world around us. Joaquim now holds a FCT post-doctoral research fellowship in Science Communication; this documentary is part of his project.
Filming for the documentary was done over a 16-month period, following the research projects as they unfolded. Of the five projects featured in the documentary, three are or were FCT-funded. One is led by an FCT Investigator selected in the 2013 call. Isabel Henriques studies the risks associated with spread of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics from hospitals to aquatic environments of the River Vouga, and looks for solutions.
Another FCT-funded project, led by Ana Hilário, looks into how different species live in the deep sea. To simulate the specific environment of whale carcasses, the team set carcasses of cows in the submarine canyon off Setúbal, and collected them a year later, to analyse what sort of organisms had colonised the carcasses.
Carlos Fonseca and his team have been investigating the unique habitat of farmed fields surrounded by hedges. These habitats are home to several animals, including toads, mice and bats, foxes, genets and otters. The researchers’ aim, in identifying and following these animals, is to gain scientific insight into ensuring that biodiversity and farming may sustainably coexist.
The effects of nanoparticles used in clothing and sunscreen on the environment (rivers, streams and fields) and on human health is what Susana Loureiro and her team are interested in.
The documentary also follows teams of biologists, led by Catarina Eira, that rescue animals that come ashore – dolphins, sea turtles and even seals – and try to identify the major threats to these sea animals.
(Image credits. University of Aveiro and Terra Líquida Filmes)