Meet Nature’s Human Caretakers


– [Narrator] Mankind and the elements. For some, it’s an uncomfortable bond. – It’s not really a
good idea to have divers in the water with a thunderstorm. – [Narrator] For others,
when weather strikes, inspiration begins. – If they have a catastrophe,
we can be there to help them. – [Narrator] These are the
people who challenge nature, seek out its limits, reveal its secrets, and embrace its awesome power. In this episode, we’ll meet an elite team of diver-scientists using
an underwater laboratory as a home base for scientific research. – Our scientists can spend
days and weeks underwater. – [Narrator] A man
growing millions of trees to be planted across
the devastated forests of the American west. – I’ll always work with plants. There’s no if, ands, or buts. – [Narrator] And in Boulder,
Colorado, an extraordinarily gifted rock balancer. – My approach was to experiment. What happens if I add one more rock? – [Narrator] These pioneers
of the great outdoors ahead on That’s Amazing. (calming music) – [Narrator] If you find
yourself in the creeks of Boulder, Colorado, you
may come across this man. – Yoda is like one of the grand masters, and one on of his major things was, “Try not, only do, there is no try.” – [Narrator] Michael Grab is a rock balancing extraordinaire, and a prominent member of
a growing global community. – [Michael] That’s kind of a philosophical approach to all of this is you just do it and you don’t think about it. – [Narrator] He’s determined to master this natural art form, and his approach and
discipline boggles the mind. – If you think too much about it, then it collapses and you break fingers. My name is Michael Grab, and I’m a stone balance artist. I just balance rocks everyday. I just started doing it randomly one day in Boulder Creek about eight years ago, and it just kind of turned into a therapeutic kind of
activity, practice, ritual, so I just kept doing it. Boulder is a really beautiful place to wake up in the morning. There’s just a special
feeling about being here, especially when I’m going
to the creek every day because it’s just kind
of this constant renewal of energy coming through the city. It’s kind of an ideal
place for rock balancing. The whole learning process
with balancing rocks is very organic in my experience. Like I just started making tall towers, biggest rock to smallest rock, and you do that enough every day for years and eventually you start noticing nuances and you start taking it a bit
further and a bit further. It’s just kind of like a
universal human activity, and that’s something I find to be really fascinating about all of it. Like I thought I was the only person doing it for a long time. Then I came to learn that all these people in pretty much every
continent except Antarctica balance rocks. One of my big inspirations was a guy I saw online named Bill Dan. He’s kind of the pioneer of
the whole counterbalance style. A counterbalance is just
where one rock holds another rock in place, so if that rock is removed, then the other rock falls. I usually start by looking
for a nice top rock, like a big rock I’m
going to display on top. I kind of look for the
rarest rock possible. Something with an interesting feature, like color or shape. Sometimes I’ll just go where
the interesting rocks are, then I might spend an hour or two just figuring out where in that spot I want to build. That kind of drives a lot
of the creative process. Most people when they
watch me, they just see me completely frozen, but what I’m doing is, every split second, I’m juggling anywhere from
three to nine different contact points or vertices of balance, just trying to isolate
certain connections. It’s like a three dimensional
gravity Rubik’s cube. That’s the way I visualize it. The zero point is a term I began calling the moment when I know that it’s balanced and I can let go. It’s kind of this infinite feeling where there’s no separation between me and these objects. There’s a few elements that go into like the quintessential stone balancer. There’s rock selection,
location selection, and photographic skill. A lot of balancers are
strong in one aspect and weak in another, but my goal is to be exceptional in all three. I’m kind of a perfectionist. Even though the art form itself says no, you can’t be a perfectionist. One of the special things
about rock balancing is you surprise yourself often if you’re willing to just experiment. What happens if I add one more rock? And that’s kind of the universal dilemma for any rock balancer. Either it collapses or it stays balanced. There’s been so many times where I just wanted to quit. Like there was a storm coming in, if it was windy, it started raining, or it’s snowing and my
fingers are freezing, but I just keep going
because I know it’s possible. I visualized it, I felt
it, but it just takes those micro-adjustments and 95% of the time, it usually works out if I
stick with it long enough. And sticking with it long
enough can be a few days. It’s like a yoga almost. It’s like a pure deep meditation, and maybe that sounds a
little bit hokey pokey, but it’s a real feeling. – [Narrator] The staggering views in space can play tricks on the eyes and the mind. Astronaut Leland Melvin explains. – As we went around the
planet 17,500 miles per hour we saw this green glow when you’re in the southern hemisphere, and
in the northern hemisphere you would see these purple
and yellow and blue lights just popping from the particles
hitting the atmosphere. Every orbit, the sun rises
and sets every 45 minutes, so as you go around the planet, you see this setting and then
another 45 minutes later, the rising of the sun. On my first mission, I was told that cosmic rays would come through the vehicle and hit your optical nerve. It would make you think
you’re seeing flashes of light even though that’s not really happening. The flashes were like a sun
burst of different colors. You would see the streaks of color popping in your eyes and in your head. Sleeping in space is pretty incredible because you’re floating
inside your sleeping bag, but then you had this whole
den of pumps and motors and things whizzing around you, and so it was almost like, uh,
you’re in a factory in a mechanical kind of
sounding automation going on. My dreams were so vivid from
all the stimulus from the day. I saw blues, greens, whites, whether they came from the ocean, whether it came from the
sun, whether it came from flashes in my head from
these high energy particles. The colors were intertwined
into my dream-state, and I saw sometimes alien forms. The green aurora australis
is moving and dancing so you know, you think of
a little green man on mars. There was one point in the mission where I started dreaming
about an inside-out cheeseburger with the most grease and just chomping into this hamburger. It’s something that we
cannot have in space. And also a big slice of pizza. I think because I’ve had these experiences and I’ve seen these incredible
things in the universe, all of that’s now incorporated
into my dreams now. So I constantly dream about lights flashing and colors and
velvet pitch black night sky and these little white
lights coming through. My name is Leland Melvin, I’m an astronaut, and a
great big story teller. – [Narrator] At any given moment, there’s more than a
million asteroids hurling through our solar system. Most will never come close to our planet. But NASA doesn’t have the bandwidth to keep track of them all. That’s where a small community of ordinary citizens steps in, backyard astronomers. Gary Hug is one of them. – [Gary] I really like to discover things that haven’t been discovered yet. – [Narrator] A retired
machinist who turned his love of astronomy
into a full-time affair. – [Gary] If you discover an asteroid, that’s one you found. Nobody else in the world
knew about that asteroid before you saw it. – [Narrator] He’s discovered more than 300 flaming balls of ice and rock, all by peering into a telescope he designed and built himself. – What I’ve been doing here lately and for about 15, 16 years now, I’ve been working with near-earth objects. My observations contribute to making sure that we don’t have something coming up that’s going to fall on our head. I kind of first got into it
probably 10, 12 years old. I was begging, begging,
begging to get a telescope, but you know, we weren’t
a very rich family, so it took a while to get it. One Christmas I got telescope. Then I started using it, and
then I got aperture fever. You want bigger telescopes all the time, so I started learning how to build them. I learned how to work in a machine shop, and I can build things
that I wanted to build. And a lot of that was astronomy parts. I kind of modified my
life to fit this study, this kind of life-long study. (clock loudly ticking) Sandlot is a very tiny little observatory. It’s only 10 foot by 10 foot wide. The telescope I built over a period of about a year and a half, and it may not look very polished. It works really well. I’m good with that. (electronic music) (camera shutter clicking) I don’t have a degree in astronomy. I have a passion for astronomy, and I’ve done it for many, many years, and I’ve contributed, I think, to the scientific body of astronomy. That’s really kind of a,
yeah, from that standpoint, I am an astronomer. (mysterious music) (speaking in foreign language) – So when you buy from local guys, it comes back to you. And you know you’re getting a local fish, it’s sustainable, you know, that’s an honest thing. Thank you. – [Antonio] Sometimes we forget that we are part of the ecosystem. We are animals, too, and are very ignorant. Very ignorant. (piano notes ringing) – I’ve always been inspired
or fascinated by weather. What does a cloud sound like? You know, even as a
child I can remember sitting down on the grass and
looking up at the clouds as they go past. What kind of sound would
those clouds output using a piano if they, if they
roll across the keys? My name is David Bowen. I’m a studio artist and educator. I make kinetic and robotic sculpture, and often these robotic devices respond to some sort of natural input. Cloud piano is a robotic installation that plays a piano based on the movement and density of the clouds
as they move across the sky. As you can see, it’s a device that mounts to the keyboard of a piano, and there’s another component, a camera, that’s mounted outside the building here, and as clouds go past the camera, the video is sent in
real time to a computer that then scales the data. What I’ve done is taken the
video feed from the camera and chopped it into 88 individual pieces, as if they are the 88
keys on the keyboard. So as the clouds go past a particular key, that key is pressed. And so it’s basically a
simple algorithm, I suppose, that says if you see more white than blue in this little section of the video, then press that key. I guess you could think of it then as maybe a collaboration where I
set up this certain situation and I’m making these
choices, but after that it’s kind of up to the weather. These odd sounds that the piano is making will continue to build or dissipate or move and change shape. Machines or computers are thought to be very orderly or very precise and likewise, nature is thought to be very chaotic. What keeps me interested
is I think there is a lot of systematic ways
to look at these things that we associate with chaos. (piano notes ringing) – [Narrator] Every year, the world’s most elite mountain
bikers gather in France for a race unlike any other. (speaking in foreign language) – [Narrator] Megavalanche is
18 miles long, to be exact, and it’s an adrenaline filled
ride through all four seasons, starting in an unlikely
spot for a bike race, 11,000 feet up on the snow capped summit of Pic Blanc in the French Alps. This is Remy Absalon. He won the Megavalanche. – I start mountain bike when I was young. Enduro mountain bike is really cool because we can explore
all around the world. Megavalanche Alpe D’Huez take place in the French Alps in Alpe D’Huez, so not so far of Italy and Switzerland. It’s really high in the Alps, so you have a very good view, 360 degrees around you. It’s really crazy. I don’t know why I do that. We ride all kind of terrain. First the glassy and after the
rocky sections, the forest. It’s very physical with some hairpins, so when you cross the
line and you are first, you are really happy, and
you want to try again. (announcer yelling in foreign language) (audience clapping and cheering) – [Narrator] About a
third of the United States is covered in forests. In places like Colorado, those forests are in danger. There’s fire. – [Gretchen] Our wildfires are getting more frequent and larger. – [Narrator] A devastating
beetle infestation. – Those trees are all dead. They don’t have any branches anymore. They’re just standing sticks. – [Narrator] And global warming. There is hope, and it’s found in an unlikely place. – When I tell people that I work at a forest in Nebraska,
they usually laugh, and they’re like, “Nebraska has a forest?” – [Narrator] Richard
Gilbert is a man on a quest. He’s a biological
scientist who works here, at the Charles Bessey
Nursery in Halsey, Nebraska. It’s the oldest federal
tree nursery in the U.S. The nursery’s main mission
is to help preserve and repopulate national forests in the Rocky Mountain region. – Without Bessey, they’re
not going to be able to have the supply of trees that
they need for reforestation. If they have a catastrophe,
we can be there to help them. You know, I think most of
the perception for Nebraska is that it’s large and it’s flat. Very boring, not pretty at all. Lots of corn and soybeans. But there’s lots of beauty here. There really is. Nebraska had been treeless, 1800s, it has been treeless for quite some time. Charles E. Bessey was a botany professor at the University of Nebraska. Absolutely loved Nebraska,
loved the sand hills, he loved trees. His mission was to get a forest planted somewhere in Nebraska. They got seedlings out of the Black Hills. They got seedlings out of Minnesota. And they brought them
here and planted them onto the forest. – 20,000 acres were hand planted here. – [Richard] It was chosen
for the plentiful water, the sand, and the ease of
producing the seedlings and extracting them out of the soil, getting them bundled
up, and planted back out onto the forest very quickly. What I love most about my job is really the change in season, and the change in work that I do. I get to work in the seed bank, I get to work in the
container part of this, and I get to work in the field. And I get to actually get my hands dirty. I don’t just sit in an
office and push paper. – Richard’s amazing. He really cares, and he’s
always trying to make it better. – We turn the greenhouses on. You got little seedlings germinating. To me, it’s spring. So my spring starts really early, and it’s extremely rewarding. – He’s very proud of his work. He’s very proud of his trees. – [Richard] I love growing
plants and helping them grow. I don’t ever want to lose
that contact with the plants. – The San Juan National
Forest I think is about 1.6 million acres. One of our biggest challenges
that’s happening is we have a large epidemic
of spruce beetle happening on the San Juan National Forest. We believe that the beetle epidemics were controlled by cold winters. Climate change is happening, and we know up here that we
have not had cold winters. Cold winters is what
controls beetle epidemics. Where we’re seeing the spruce
beetle attacking the trees, when those trees are all dead, they don’t have any branches anymore, they’re just standing sticks. They’re starting to fall over. The spruce beetle epidemic that we’re seeing is unprecedented. We collect seed from the trees early before the beetles hit
to maintain a seed bank. Bessey Nursery is a very important
part of our organization. They are the ones who
store all of our seed, and they grow all the seedlings for us. – When they need ‘em, we grow ‘em, and we get ‘em produced
in less than a year. All of the trees are
produced in the greenhouses, and then they are brought
in here on tables. This wire’s okay, because
it’s above halfway, and we have a central leader. We can pack 110 to 120 thousand
trees per belt per day. We’re packing container trees for the San Juan National Forest. They don’t get their moisture in the spring a lot of times. They get their summer monsoon seasons. That’s when they want
their seedlings delivered. – Richard remembers all
of this information. He wants the feedback and
wants to know how they did. At our best, we might
get 70%, 80% survival. – [Richard] Without
Bessey, they’re not going to be able to have the supply of trees that they need for reforestation. – Rich Gilbert is very
proactive, and he’s adapting, and doing as much as he can to prepare the nursery into the future. – [Richard] Starting from the
seed to a finished product, and it’s a wonderful experience to be able to be part of that. – [Man] These trees are
going to outlast me, and they’re going to outlast Rich. It’s not often you can have that kind of legacy on the landscape. – Plants are just amazing, and there are so many of them out there, and I will never know how
to grow every single one. If it’s a very, very interesting plant, I’ll try to produce it
and grow it at the house, and if you guys drive
by my house over there, you’ll understand. You’ll see all the different
plants that I have over there. – [Narrator] Across
the planet, coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate. Scientists estimate that
30% of the ocean’s reefs have disappeared due to human activity and rising ocean temperatures. – Coral is kind of like
the trees of a forest. They’re just the backbone of
a whole tropical ecosystem, and if they disappear,
we’re in a lot of trouble. – [Narrator] Ken Nedimyer
is coral’s last best hope. He developed the coral tree nursery, a simple framework of PVC pipe
tethered to the ocean floor. In this nursery, he’s able
to grow brand new fragments of elkhorn and staghorn coral and replant them on struggling
reefs in the Florida Keys. He’s planting 25,000 new corals a year, and his methods are
inspiring conservationists across the tropics. – Been growing up diving. Spent a lot of time in the water. One, two, three. And I’ve basically watched
the coral reefs dying. As the reefs died, the
fish didn’t come back, and I realized, I’m tired
of watching it die, I need to do something about it; and so I developed this
whole idea of growing corals in an offshore nursery and
replanting them on the reef. – [Man] So you’re kind of like a farmer? – I’m a farmer. Yeah, we grow corals just like a farm. There’s a good time of the year to plant and there’s a harvest time. We have five offshore
nurseries in the Keys. Each tree can hold 100 corals. We start with little
fragments that we collect, and after six to nine
months, maybe a year, that fragment has turned
into a colony that might have 100 centimeters of growth on it, we cut that off, and then
we plant it out on the reef. So we just harvested some corals, and we’re going to take
them out to Pickle’s Reef right now and plant them. We’ve got a couple
thousand of them out there that we’ve already planted, and we’re going to add some more. It is a bit of gardening when you put the corals back out on the reef, you’re saying ah, I think that
would look nice over there, and that would look nice over there, and some of it’s based
on what used to be there and what should be there, and
that’s how we do our planting. We planted 20,000 already this year. We’ll plant 25,000 next year. Those corals will
probably spawn next year. Part of the long-range
goal is to get the corals reproducing on their own. I’m excited every time I get in the water, whether I’m going to work in the nursery or whether I’m planting corals or just looking for new areas to plant. A lot of people said, “Oh,
you can never do that.” Can’t do it on a big enough scale, and I think I’ve proven
that it can be done, and if we can train enough people and teach enough people in other places, I think we can really see
a significant turn-around. Another day, another coral. – [Narrator] The world’s
oceans are under siege. Marine life is dying at alarming rates due to accelerating
pollution, overfishing, and climate change. – People keep saying
we’re at a tipping point. Some people say we’re
beyond a tipping point. – [Narrator] But six miles
off the shores of Key Largo, and 60 feet deep sits Aquarius, the world’s only underwater research laboratory. – There is no other place
where people live underwater and work on the water for
extended periods of time. – [Narrator] The
diver-scientists who work here are called aquanauts, and they come from all over the world to spend weeks at Florida
International University’s underwater lab, conducting cutting-edge
research on oceanic health. This elite group faces
danger in the elements for the sake of the planet
in a race against time. – The first time I saw an ocean, I was amazed by the vast expanse. It really made me feel insignificant. As I started to spend more and
more time around the ocean, I started to see that we do affect what’s happening underwater. We’re seeing ocean acidification. We’re seeing coral reef decline. And we see a lot of degradation. What I don’t think people realize is the impact that oceans have on people in the middle of the country. Everything associated with
the ocean controls climate, controls local weatherized patterns. – The world’s reefs have been valued at $375 billion annually. That’s for fisheries, tourism, protection of the coastline from storms. – The research at Aquarius
is being conducted at a critical time. Aquarius, Aquarius Reef Base. – Got camera feeds and all that, right? – That’s a roger, we’ve
got the main lock on. Aquarius is the last
undersea research laboratory dedicated to science and
eduction in the world today. – There is no other underwater habitat doing what we do, how we do it. – [Anthony] It allows researchers to live at their study site. They can do incredibly long working dives, dives which couldn’t be
done from the surface. – When you’re diving from the surface, the deeper you go, the less time you have. When you live underwater, the habitat actually becomes your surface. When you dive from the habitat,
which is about 50 feet, and you dive to 90 feet, you’re not really diving to 90 feet, you’re really diving to
40 feet from the surface. So now what you’ve done is
you’ve extended that time period that you can actually spend at 90 feet. That’s where it really
separates from the traditional research or work that’s done from vessels on the surface of the water. That makes a big difference. – Marine ecologists use
it as a base of operation. Others want to use it for extreme environment mission operations. We do a number of projects with NASA, and they say that Aquarius is very similar to what astronauts experience in space. In the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, we had 60 or 70 research labs underwater,
and now we’re down to one. In 2011, there was a
shift within congress, so the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration started to pull back in funding. Everyone in the science community said you know what, we’ve got to
do what we can to save this. FIU leapt at the opportunity. – It makes it official. The FIU age of Aquarius has begun. – [Thomas] We had gone from
getting ready to shut it down. – And here we are almost four years later, and we’re still going. – [Thomas] You can
control a lot of things, but you can’t control the weather. – [Roger] We make a choice
to take on the inherent risks that are associated with
being exposed to the elements. The constant real-time changes
that occur with weather, the possibility of getting
stranded out at sea. – [Narrator] The surface crew is forced to postpone operations. – Right now, it’s not really a good idea to have divers in the water, especially with a thunderstorm
that has lightning strikes. – [Narrator] But the aquanauts below continue their work, uninterrupted. – Everybody who works in
an offshore environment fully understands that that
mission may be postponed a week, a month, maybe cancelled at any time. – Everybody when they’re five years old wants to be an astronaut
or a marine biologist. I never grew out of it. Living and doing science underwater is the coolest thing I could possibly imagine. – What does it take to become an aquanaut? We look at people who have considerable experience underwater. Diving has to be second-nature. And it’s not uncommon for people not to finish aquanaut training. They start to understand
that maybe psychologically, I’m not prepared to be
in a confined environment with five other people for 10 days. – That’s the typical length of missions, but we have done longer ones. We’ve done 16 day, we’ve done 18 day, and the longest one to-date
had been 31 days long. – We’ve saturated 392 scientists now. – Both you guys got your masks, fins, BC, depth gauge, pressure gauge, computer? – Check. – I can honestly tell you
from the bottom of my heart that I enjoy waking up in the morning and then coming to work. Yeah, I enjoy my job, a lot. – It’s not an easy job, keeping Aquarius going,
constantly fighting weather, constantly fighting corrosion, but every day we wake
up and say, all right, we’ve got to do something today, because what’s happening with
the oceans isn’t stopping. – [Narrator] This team of Hawaiian sailors is on what might sound
like an impossible mission, to sail around the world using only the sun and the stars as their guide. Their boat is a replica of a historic Polynesian voyaging canoe. She’s called the Hokule’a. There’s no motor, no nails,
no metal to hold her together. Just ropes. The goal for Captain Bruce
Blankenfeld and his crew? To honor their ancestors who
used this form of navigation, and prove it is possible
to sail the open seas without any modern technology. – Voyaging canoes, the
mode of transportation for navigating the vast area of Polynesia. It’s like over 3 million square miles, and that was the way
our ancestors traveled. This is our culture, and
we’re celebrating that. So we’re on Hokule’a. She is a replica of a
Polynesian voyaging canoe. The Hokule’a was built
with the express purpose of proving that navigation
by the ancient way was very viable. That these canoes could be guided over 2,000 miles and long distances. – There’s about five miles
of rope on this canoe, so that’s definitely traditional. There’s no metal, there’s no screws, there’s no nails, there’s no braces that hold the canoe together. There’s no navigation
equipment that we use to go across the ocean. When we are navigating the open ocean, our biggest clue that
tells us where we are and where we’re going is the sun. The sun, as we know, rises in
the east and sets in the west, so if we just know where one point is, then we know where everything else is. The stars do us the same thing, because it’s like the compass in the sky. We memorize close to 200
stars and know where they rise and where they set and how
they move across the skies. – [Bruce] The sun and
the stars and everything work in conjunction with the swells. So in the absence of the sun, then you maintain the orientation of the crew through swell patterns. That’s a very difficult thing. – We started in Hawaii
in end of May, 2014. We embarked on this worldwide voyage, which first ended up going towards Tahiti through our ancestral routes, and now we’re here in Martha’s Vineyard. We see this overwhelming support from peoples all around the world. Hokule’a’s the symbol
of hope and of pride. – A big part of this voyage, right, (speaking in foreign
language), is to train a whole cadre of young
navigators and captains. Wait, leave the back sail. Let’s get the 23 out. A big foresail. Kaleo Wang is one of the
apprentice navigators. He understands that, you know, it’s
going to take long hours and lack of sleep. He understands how to use all the tools that nature provides. Kaleo and these others, they’re just like a pinch of salt as far as the people who know how to do this
type of navigation. – When I’m on Hokule’a, you know, and we’re sailing in the open ocean, I feel definitely a deep sense of pride of what our ancestors were able to do and what we can still do today. When we’re in the middle of the ocean, we’re seeing the same swells
that they would have saw, the same stars that they would have been looking at and using, the same birds, the same
everything in the ocean. But when we’re on the canoe, definitely connected more to
our culture, to our people, to our ancestors.

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