Blue Planet II (2017–2018): Season 1, Episode 3 - Coral Reefs - full transcript

In a far corner
of S oath-East Asia,

lies the Coral Triangle.

A cluster of the richest coral reefs,
in the world.

Undersea cities crammed full of life.

As in any crowded metropolis,

there is fierce rivalry for space,

for food

and for a partner.

But the reef is also a place
full of opportunity.

A cuttlefish.

It specialises in hunting crabs.

But a large crab is a dangerous quarry.

It has powerful claws.

The cuttlefish, however,
has a remarkable talent.

Its skin contains millions
of pigment cells

with which it can create
ever-changing colours

and patterns.

And that apparently hypnotises the crab.

A cuttlefish may be clever,

but a shark is bigger.

And it eats cuttlefish.

Time to disappear.

Back to the hunt.

A new target,
but the same mesmerising technique.

For those that manage to establish
themselves in these bustling

undersea cities,

there can be great rewards.

Corals build themselves
homes of limestone,

in the warm, clear,
shallow seas of the Tropics.

Their reefs occupy less than one tenth

of one percent of the ocean floor.

Yet, they're home to a quarter

of all known marine species.

They are complex,

infinitely variant structures,

providing all kinds of homes
for their many residents,

from penthouse suites,

to backstreet dens.

Here, on Australia's Great Barrier Reef,

a coral grouper lives
by hunting for small fish.

But how do you get a meal here,

when you're too big
to squeeze into crevices?

And the grouper also has a rival,

one which is highly intelligent,

and seeks the same kind of prey.

An octopus.

It can reach into really narrow cracks.

Even so,

its prey often escapes.

What if they could work together?

The grouper turns pale,

and tries to attract
the octopus's attention.

It performs a head stand.

Not only is the grouper signalling
to the octopus,

it's indicating
where the prey is hiding.

The octopus reaches inside.

The fish take fright.

And swim straight into
the grouper's jaws.

Sometimes, the octopus gets the reward,

sometimes, the grouper does.

Two very different species

have discovered
that teamwork can bring success,

in reef city.

Teamwork, in fact,
is the very foundation of life

on the reef.

The corals themselves
also rely on a partnership.

But one of a much more intimate kind.

Corals are colonies
of anemone-like animals,


Some as small as grains of sand.

Living inside the tissues of each polyp,

are minute plant-like cells,
invisible to the naked eye.

By day flourishing in tropical sunshine,

the plant-like cells provide the polyps

with up to 90% of their food.

And when it's dark,
the polyps continue to feed

by using their tentacles to grab
edible particles drifting by.

The polyps also extract
calcium carbonate from the sea water,

and use it to build a stony housing
for themselves.

Coral colonies
can continue to grow for centuries.

Possibly millennia.

And they can build structures
that can reach the size of a house.

The biggest of their cities,
is the Great Barrier Reef.

It runs for over 7400 miles
along the coast of North East Australia.

Activity in coral reefs,
wherever they are, never ceases.

At dawn, the day shift begins.

Accompanied by a chorus
of submarine song,

created by fish, shrimps,
and other inhabitants of the reef.

Every resident in this city,
has its role.

Scavengers, like the sea cucumber,

recycle the waste of others.

These parrot fish,
bite off chunks of coral

and crunch it
to extract the contents.

And then, excrete the rest as sand.

Green turtles, here in Borneo,

pay regular visits
to a particular patch of coral.

This little female is up early
and one step ahead of the others.

Turtles travel long distances along
the reef in order to get here.

This is their destination.

Turtle Rock.

Generations of visiting turtles
have worn a hollow in its top.

This is home to blennies

and surgeon fish.

They clean the visitors picking off
any algae, parasites and dead skin,

that they can find.

Other client are close behind.

A queue is forming.

The big males barge their way in.

And the smaller female is forced out.

She takes a quick turn around the block,

while the others are squabbling.

And then, she sneaks back in.

So the cleaners get a nutritious meal,

and their customers are freed of
their parasites and other encumbrances.

And it's now thought, that a spot
of pampering at a cleaning station

may even reduce stress.

The lands of the Middle East
are so hot and dry,

that much of their surface
is almost lifeless.

But here in the Red Sea,

Coral Reefs flourish wonderfully.

The waters offshore,

are almost as rich
in life as a rainforest.

And some animals come to the reefs

simply for rest and relaxation.

The family of bottlenose dolphins

are resting on the reef

after a night's feeding offshore.

Whilst the adult and their babies sleep,

the adolescents set of the explore...

...and they appear to make up games.

You might call this one,
"Catch the coral."

The rules aren't entirely clear.

They pick up different bits
of broken coral,

and drop them.

Some fall fast.

Others sink more slowly.

And some seem to be descending in a way

that pleases everybody.

Only the most successful city residents
can afford the luxury of playing games.

But, such games do that their value.

They may help the youngsters develop
the coordination and the agility

that they will need when
they start hunting in the open sea.

Every reef
has a sharply defined boundary.

Its city walls.

On the outer side is the drop off.

These ramparts protect the city
from the ocean waves.

But twice a day, the walls are covered
by the incoming tide.

In the Bahamas, the rush of the water
creates a truly strange phenomenon.

Seamen once told tales
of a giant sea monster,

lurking here deep inside the reef,

that would drag sailors to their doom.

Today, we know it is in fact a whirlpool
created by the incoming tide

rushing over deep coral caves.

These currents bring in fresh supplies
of microscopic food to the reef

from the open ocean.

And in the Maldives,
on the biggest tides,

one particular coral lagoon

become so flooded with plankton,

that it attracts hundreds
of ocean giants.

Manta Rays.

With three-metre wing spans.

With their huge sloth
like mouths wide open

they filter out the plankton.

And the mantas create
a vortex of their own

that further concentrates their food.

This behaviour has been called
the manta cyclone.

Then the tide changes,

and the supply of food is cut of.

The mantas leave the lagoon.

Life on the sheltered side of the reef
is tranquil and peaceful.

In these suburbs,
any creature wishing to escape

from the bustling crowds of reef city,

can find plenty of space.

On the other hand,

there is nowhere to hide.

That, at night,

makes it a dangerous place.

Nocturnal predators,
such as this lion fish,

patrol the reef edge.

The hunter has become the hunted.

A hobbit,

a giant carnivorous worm

with jaws as sharp as daggers.

It has an ancestry that stretches back
more than four hundred million years.

It's a metre long.

It tastes for scent.

And feels for movement.

Dawn, and with light,
the reef becomes a safer place.

Little bream return to foraging.

The bobbit might still be hungry.

But now in daylight
the odds have shifted.

The bream can see the bobbit.

Instead of retreating,

they join together to blow away
the sand covering the worm.

So, taking away
its advantage of surprise.

By revealing the [rabbit's hiding place,

they will all be able
to feed more safely.

But it pays to remember

there is a bobbit about.

Out here, on the sand flats,

there is safe accommodation for some.

The family of saddleback clownfish
have found an excellent home.

The tentacles
of this carpet anemone can kill.

But the clownfish
are immune to the poison,

so they can shelter from danger.

In return, the fish keep the anemone
clean of debris.

As with all clownfish,

the family is ruled by a big female.

Her white face marks her out
as the boss.

The diminutive male
has to prove his worth,

so he works tirelessly,

removing debris and generally keeping
on top of the housework.

His greatest challenge
is to find a safe place

where the boss can lay her eggs.

But there's nothing solid here
for the female to lay them on.

A nearby shell could be the solution.

If only he can move it
to the protection of the anemone.

Too heavy.

Besides, it has a mind of its own.

The hermit crab.

But out here, twice a day,

the anemone is swept by tidal currents,

and they bring in new opportunities.

An old plastic bottle.

Perhaps, this will do.

Not heavy enough.

A coconut shell.

It looks just right.

But it's a long way from home.

And he can't move it by himself.

So the pair now work together.

A little adjustment
to the anemone's tentacles,

in order to clear a space for it.

And the shell is tucked in.

The female lays.

A safe nursery at last.

He has proved himself worthy
to father her young.

And he fertilizes them.

Now he will meticulously tend the eggs,

keeping them clean
and healthy until they hatch

in 10 days time.

Reef creatures go to great lengths to
give their young a head start in life.

And nowhere more so

than on the remotest reefs in the world.

French Polynesia,

the very heart of the South Pacific.

Protected by their isolation,

some of the reefs here,
are still virtually pristine.

This marbled grouper has made it
in the city and reached adulthood.

Now, it's the time to mate.

To find a partner, he must head
to the most dangerous part of this reef:

The drop off.

Patrolled by grey reef sharks,

hundreds of them.

They seem to be resting,

for now.

Thousands of other groupers
have gathered on the seabed below.

The females are almost bursting
with eggs.

But to mate with one,

he must first get through the crowd
of other waiting males.

And they all have the same thing
on their minds.

They jostle to get as close as possible
to a female.

This male may have
secured pole position,

but the female won't release
her eggs for him to fertilize,

until conditions are just right.

Now the sharks begin to close in,

sensing that
the critical moment is approaching.

The tide is beginning to turn.

This could be the moment to spawn.

Suddenly, the females rush up
towards the surface

releasing their clouds
of eggs as they go.

The males pursue them,
simultaneously releasing their sperm.

It's an act
the groupers seem prepared to die for.

It's now or never.

The fertilized eggs,

will now be swept away

from the many hungry mouths
of the reef dwellers.

Most of the billions of eggs
that cloud the sea,

will be eaten.

But a few,

a tiny but crucial minority,

will find another reef

and make it their home.

But today's coral reefs
are facing a new threat.

The seas are warming.

A rise in temperature
of just one for two degrees

for just a few weeks,

can be enough to cause the coral polyps
to eject their plant-like cells.

When that happens,
the corals lose both their colour,

and their main source of food.

If the high temperatures are sustained,

coral, bleached in this way,

is likely to die.

In recent years, it's thought that
half the world's coral reefs

have been affected by bleaching.

Including, since 2016,

around two thirds
of the shallow water corals,

on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

These once crowded submarine cities,

are reduced

to bleak ruins.

and many of their inhabitants,
left homeless.

Some scientists predict
that by the end of the century,

coral reef cities as we know them,

could be a thing of the past.

Is there any future for these most
precious of ocean treasures?

Well, that ultimately depends
on how fast they heat up,

and how warm the seas become.

And there is a glimmer of hope,

because of the way
the corals reproduce themselves.

On one special night of the year,

the full moon triggers
an extraordinary event:

The spawning of the coral.

With extraordinary synchrony,
entire reefs reproduce.

Billions of fertilized eggs drift away

carried by the ocean currents.

And it's not just the corals that spawn,

so do many other residents of the reef.

A whole range of young

are swept through the oceans,

ready to settle on a vacant site,

and bring back into existence
the complex community,

that is a coral reef.

We may not know what the future
hold for our seas,

but coral reefs can regenerate.

As long as some reefs survive,

some hope can remain.

Next time, we head
into the vastness of the open ocean.

To survive in this blue wilderness,
some are fast,

others use deadly strategies,

and a few rely on the closeness
of their families.