Great Barrier Reef

Documentary: Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef

I have been diving for nearly three years, and have a shortish list of underwater places in the world I’d like to visit. (Unfortunately each of them is ruinously expensive to go to, so we’re going to have to start playing the lotto – I’ve heard that this marginally increases your chances of winning.) TheĀ Great Barrier Reef wasn’t on my list until I watched this BBC series, narrated by Monty Halls. I now want to dive near the Great Barrier Reef, and perhaps on it. I’ll explain why further on.

The series is divided into three one hour episodes. The first episode deals with the reef itself – the coral and creatures that live on it, and the incredible diversity of life that it supports – in exactly the sense you’d expect from a documentary about a giant coral reef that’s visible from space.

It was the second episode, entitled “Reef to Rainforest”, that caught my imagination, however. Between the Australian mainland and the reef itself lies “the lagoon”, a wide expanse of sheltered water with an apparently featureless sandy bottom. Oases of life exist there, however: some of the corals and life forms that cluster together for shelter reminded me very much of what one finds when venturing off onto the sand at Long Beach (for example). There are also giant sting rays (the BBC footage of one of them feeding in the sand was slightly better than mine), hammerhead sharks, and all sorts of creatures that made me want to go and explore this apparent – but not actual – underwater desert. Halls also visits the wreck of the SS Yongala, a wreck in the lagoon area that supports almost unbelievable quantities of life. In close proximity to the wreck the water looks like fish soup, and larger predators whizz by causing the schools of smaller fish to make lightning fast direction changes. I must dive there.

The third episode is also magnificent, documenting the creatures that travel for thousands of miles to breed, mate and feed on the reef. Green turtles, innumerable seabirds, dwarf minke whales, manta rays, and tiger sharks all visit the reef and benefit from its nutrients and habitats. Thousands of green turtles visit Raine Island to lay their eggs each year, and this uninhabited (and access-forbidden) island is also a rookery for a miraculous array of seabirds – boobies, frigatebirds, shearwaters, tropicbirds.

You can read some of Halls’ thoughts on the experience of filming this documentary here. I’m jealous, not least of his opportunity to go nose to nose with a minke whale. He snorkels, paddles, walks about and dives through a variety of habitats, including a gloriously muddy mangrove swamp. His narration while wearing a full face mask is hard to listen to – poor sound quality – but in general he’s convincing and easy to listen to.

You can buy a copy of the DVD here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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