The BBC’s natural history blockbuster Blue Planet II has become the most-watched programme of 2017.
Episode one of the Sir David Attenborough-narrated series was seen by a total of 14.01 million people, new figures reveal.
It is more than two million higher than the 11.63 million who saw the One Love Manchester concert in June, which had attracted this year’s biggest TV audience.
Blue Planet II looks likely to repeat the success of last year’s Planet Earth II, which enjoyed audiences of more than 11 million for all six episodes.
The full ratings for episode one of Blue Planet II include those who recorded the programme and watched it up to seven days afterwards.
Meanwhile, overnight ratings for episode two of the series, broadcast on Sunday evening on BBC One, show that 10.8 million tuned in to watch dazzling footage of creatures living in the depths of the world’s oceans.
This number will almost certainly rise when the full ratings are published next week, but perhaps even more surprising was the statistic that more young people watched the first episode of Blue Planet II than any single episode of Love Island.
According to BBC director general Tony Hall, Love Island, the first episode of which aired last month, attracted 2.4 million people aged between 16 and 34.
All this of course is great news for one of the region’s most popular attractions, which just so happens to share a name with the highest rated TV show around.
Blue Planet, near the Cheshire Oaks retail and leisure complex in Ellesmere Port, was opened by the Queen in July 1998 and in the two decades since it has become a must-go destination for thousands of families eager to get close to the aquarium’s famous collection of sharks, piranhas, caiman crocodiles and sea otters.
When it opened the attraction’s stated aim was to “enlighten, increase knowledge and raise interest in the marine environment using an interactive, entertaining and sustainable approach” and environmental education remains at the forefront of the aquarium’s operations.
Much has been made in the media about the strong environmental message behind the new TV series of and for staff at the aquarium the show provides a welcome boost of interest in aquatic conservation.
“They couldn’t have done more for conservation this time around,” says marine biology student Kate Dunning who combines her studies with work at Blue Planet.
“Last time they didn’t emphasise enough the problems that we’re having in the ocean, especially with plastics, and getting the message across to kids is so important.
“We need to bring children up from a young age to know what a danger plastics, for example, are to the oceans.
“There are loads of things going on that are working towards reducing the amount and the more we can get this across to younger people the better.
“We all get very distraught when we see these declining populations of species, but we have to realise that so much of it comes from us and is created by human impact.”
In 2001, when the first series of Blue Planet aired, climate change was already melting the Arctic sea ice, but an epilogue that was added to the final episode was cut by the Discovery Channel when the series reached America – to environmentalists’ dismay.
This time, the programme makers have assured the seventh and final episode will concentrate on the multitude of problems facing the oceans, from global warming to plastic waste, with the whole series eventually being seen by something like half a billion people globally.
“TV coverage is so important for conservation,” agrees Donovan Lewis, another worker at the aquarium who has recently finished studying conservation at Bangor University.
“Blue Planet II is doing a really good job of bringing together beautiful footage with an explanation of what threats there are to our animals.
“Documentaries like this help broaden the appeal of the environment and bring it into the living rooms of millions of people – it’s certainly more entertaining than research papers that might only appeal to a small, selective group of people!”
Of course Blue Planet would be nothing without its sheer entertainment value and jaw-dropping moments of which so far there have almost been too many to mention.
“Yesterday we had a tour and they were all interested in the giant trevally because they were the fish in the first episode hunting the birds by launching themselves out of the sea,” laughs Kate.
“People had never realised they could jump out of the water and of course they are such weird-looking fish with their bumpy face!”
Seeing crowds of children watching Kate while she tells them about the sharks and the divers as they feed them in the huge underwater viewing window is certainly a heart-warming sight and one both students think is essential if the future of the oceans is to remain in safe hands.
“The message is getting across; it’s just not getting there fast enough,” adds Donovan.
“People always sit back and think someone else will change it but we need to be that change and we need to make it happen.
“Programmes like Blue Planet II can ensure the younger generation will hopefully grow up knowing they can change things and can be the movement we need in the future.”