This article was written for NoCamels by ZAVIT – Science and Environment in Israel.
A new Israeli TV series is set to help kids and teens reconnect with nature through educational awareness – and it will air on Nickelodeon.
Zormim (Hebrew for “flowing”) is an educational mini-series that promotes the country’s many rivers and streams and their fascinating ecosystems. Now, this may not sound as entertaining as a sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea (Spongebob, for the uninitiated), but it creates an emotional connection between Israeli youth and the environment. During this time of home isolation due to the coronavirus, this is especially important.
The show was produced by the Israeli Society for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (ISEES) together with Nickelodeon to raise awareness about the environment and show children and teenagers (ages 7 – 15) that they too can make a difference by taking action.
A rocky relationship
Producers felt the need to bridge the gap between what society once thought of the rivers in their own backyard to what they are today or have the potential to become in the future.
“Nickelodeon’s encouragement and promotion of positive values as part of our content as a powerful and influential channel in Israel, gives our audience awareness, inspiration, and positive reinforcement to continue caring for the environment,” says Bonit Ben Ami, Editor-in-Chief of the Nickelodeon Channels in Israel. “So, in fact, we use our power to leverage, encourage, and preserve important values.”
Dr. Neta Lipman, the CEO of ISEES, explains, “ISEES gives tools to the scientific community in order to make science approachable, but it doesn’t normally have the tools to approach such a large number of children, but Nickelodeon does. They communicate with kids on a daily basis and they promote their messages successfully. If we are writing and using their platform to make science more accessible, fun, and lively, then kids will feel like protecting nature, and in particular, rivers is important.”
Israel’s historic relationship with its rivers and streams is rocky, to say the least. In the past century, coastal plain streams were polluted by raw or poorly treated sewage and surrounding factories for many years, neglected by the government and cast aside by the public. This situation started to shift towards pollution reduction in the past few decades.
Since then, water quality has improved dramatically, and a number of streams have been ecologically restored. Nevertheless, some of them are still polluted seasonally by sewage originating in the West Bank. Other streams contain excess treated wastewater (secondary or tertiary treated) from Israeli agriculture, or, at times, become contaminated by raw sewage due to failures or overflow in Israeli treatment facilities and adjacent industries.
Tom Topaz, a PhD candidate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who specializes in aquatic science and risk assessment, was invited to participate in one of the Zormim episodes and explains why rivers are the star of the show. “Israeli streams and rivers suffer from intensive anthropogenic stress causing many types of environmental and health problems,” he says. The lack of wastewater management that is accompanied by the dumping of chemicals is a “threat to aquatic life.”
Creating an emotional connection with nature
Given Israel’s past regarding the environment, forming an emotional connection, as well as a community commitment and sense of continuity surrounding the environment, is not only the goal of the show, but it is much needed today. Much of Israeli youth are not fully aware that they are living in proximity to nature.
Shirley Oren, Vice President of Content for Viacom Channels Israel at Ananey Communications, agrees that “first, you need to create an emotional connection, and the scientific content is sometimes an antithesis to that.”
“As part of Nickelodeon’s agenda, we develop and produce content entertaining, fun, enriching, and fun for our audience alongside ensuring constant preserving and encouraging values and positive messages,” says Ben Ami.
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Therefore, Zormim is teaching youth to celebrate the environment by making it an accessible and tangible asset through ecological, cultural, social, and economic importance. It also puts an active and educational spin on the environment, showing its viewers that they can take part in solving environmental problems, particularly those relating to Israel’s rivers.
“Zormim contains humor, likable characters, and fun storylines that make these subjects accessible while being fun. We believe that in this way, the messages and values of ecological touch audiences and generate greater awareness of the importance of the subject,” says Ben Ami.
A first-of-its-kind series
In order to promote Zormim, the mini-series will be accompanying the showing of Spiders, another Nickelodeon show that follows children who are a part of a secret organization that protects the earth from environmental criminals. For example, in Season 1, they defeat a criminal who is trying to dry a large lake.
In Zormim, Kim Or Azulay and Amit Hechter, also from Spiders, meet scientists, environmentalists, and community activists who research, monitor and work to maintain and restore streams and waterways. The actors are even shown getting into the Yarkon River with scientists to take water samples in one of the episodes.
“This sort of experience actually produces moments that are very authentic and very comical and strengthens the connection of the guiding theme and the experience itself,” says Ben Ami. “This sense of connection is felt throughout the series and is delivered to an audience at home that often sees the actors as role models.”
After the premiere, viewers will be able to access a digital platform that makes information about rivers in Israel accessible to the general public. This exposure will also promote ongoing activities within the communities and institutions of viewers, empowering the viewers to work even harder to maintain and advocate for their local environment.
Topaz says, “Zormim is an excellent initiative bringing the younger generation one step closer to actual facts regarding our streams and estuaries. Exposing kids to the wonders of streams and aquatic life and its importance in our community and with regards to sustainability is of great value.”
“I believe that the encounter with science and nature through the excellent performance of Amit and Kim is of great importance for the efforts to maintain and restore Israel’s aquatic ecosystems,” Topaz continues
This is the first time that a television station of such a caliber as Nickelodeon has chosen to produce a series for youth about protagonists who preserve the environment.
Lipman concludes that “teaming up with Nickelodeon is a very big step for ISEES. The bigger the crowd, the bigger the message and influence you have.”
“Nickelodeon has tremendous exposure in the country, which allows us to be very effective when we broadcast content with a message that is important to children, beyond drama or comedy,” says Oren.
Zormim, as well as the digital platform accompanying the show, are set to air this spring and summer.
“We believe in the power and the will of the younger generation to ‘save the world’ and to ensure a better world in the future. We see them as agents of change,” concludes Ben Ami.