Planet Earth II (2016): Season 1, Episode 1 - Islands - full transcript

Wildlife documentary series with David Attenborough, beginning with a look at the remote islands which offer sanctuary to some of the planet's rarest creatures.

When you look
down on the Earth's surface,

it's impossible not to be impressed

by the sheer grandeur,
splendour and power

of the natural world.

It's been ten years
since we explored these wonders

in the first series of Manet Earth.

And since then, much has changed.

We can now show life on our planet

in entirely new ways,

bring you closer to animals
than ever before,

and reveal new wildlife dramas
for the very first time.

But that is not all.

The planet has changed, too.

Never have our wildernesses
been as fragile

and as precious as they are today.

At this crucial time
for the natural world,

we will journey to every corner
of the globe

to explore the greatest treasures
of our living planet,

and reveal the extreme lengths
animals go to to survive.

Finally, we will explore our cities

to see how life is adapting
to the newest habitat on Earth.

This is Planet Earth II.

There are hundreds
of thousands of islands,

each one a world in miniature.

A microcosm of our living planet.

The struggles to survive
on these remote lands

reflect the challenges
faced by all life on Earth.

The tiny island of Escudo
off the coast of Panama,

home to the pygmy three-teed sloth.

This is a male,
and life here suits him well.

Mangroves provide all the leaves
he can eat

and there are no predators to worry him.

Island life may seem idyllic,

but it comes at a price.

There are only a few hundred
pygmy sloths in existence,

and he needs a mate.


That's an enticing call...

...from a female

somewhere out there.

And this, for a sloth,
is a quick reaction.

The problem is there's deep water
between them.

So what should any red-blooded sloth do?

Swim, of course.

Could this be her?

He does his best to put on
a turn of speed.

But she's not the one.

She already has a baby

and she won't mate again
until it leaves her

in about six months' time.

Even life on a paradise island
can have its limitations.

But at least she can't be far away.

The world's entire population
of pygmy sloths

is isolated on a speck of land no bigger
than New York's Central Park.

The size of an island
has a huge influence

on the fate of those cast away there.

The island of Komodo in Indonesia.

Home to dragons.

Three metres long and weighing
a massive 70 kilos,

these are the largest living lizards
on the planet.

It's unusual to find large predators
on islands.

Yet, for four million years,
the Komodo dragon has dominated here.

It might seem there wouldn't be
enough food

to support such giants
on this relatively small island,

but reptiles, being cold-blooded,

need only about a tenth of the food
a carnivorous mammal would.

A single meal
will last a dragon a month.

They're so successful,
that their only serious competition

comes from others of their own kind,

and there are some 2,000 of them here.

This giant, however,
isn't looking for food.

He's looking for a mate.

Female dragons come into season
only once a year.

She is receptive.

So far, so good.

But he strayed
into someone else's patch.

Another huge male
thinks he is the king here.

Space being limited on islands,
dragon territories overlap,

and that creates continual conflict.

In dragon society, size is everything.

But if rivals are closely matched,
the outcome can be uncertain.

Muscular tails strike with
the power of sledgehammers.

And their serrated teeth
are as sharp as steak knives.

Each tries to topple his opponent.


Only the most powerful dragons
win the right to mate.

The limited food and space
on the small islands

can often lead to intense competition.

But some islands are immense.

More like miniature continents.

And these provide opportunities
for life to experiment and evolve.

Madagascar is one of
the biggest islands

and also one of the oldest,

having split away from Africa over
120 million years ago.

With time and isolation,
its animals have adapted

to take advantage
of every available niche.

The island now has some
250,000 different species,

most found nowhere else on Earth.

These are not monkeys, but lemurs.

From a single ancestor, about a hundred
different types have evolved.

The largest, the Indri,
seldom comes down from the branches.

The much smaller ring-tails
wander in troops across the forest floor

searching for fruit.

And tiny bamboo lemurs eat nothing
except bamboo.

With few competitors,

lemurs have been free to colonise almost
every environment on the island,

even the most extreme.

This baby sifaka
has a hard life ahead of it.

He's been born in the most arid
and hostile corner

of Madagascar's vast landscape.

If he is to survive here,
he has much to learn.

The spiny forest is like a desert.

It rarely rains, so water and food
is very hard to find.

Moving from tree to tree
is a perilous business.

Here, nearly all the plants
are covered with ferocious spines.

His mother searches the treetops
for the youngest leaves.

They provide the only food and water
to sustain the family.

At three months old,
the youngster is starting to explore.

All too soon, he will have to fend
for himself up here.

But it's altogether easier
to stay on Mother's back.

If he can master the strange ways
of this forest,

he will have a little corner
of Madagascar to himself.

Island life encourages animals
to do things differently,

and on some islands, that is essential.

There are islands still forming today

built by volcanoes.

Some erupt explosively,

others pour out rivers of molten rock,


In the last 50 years,

ten new volcanic islands
have been formed.

Newly created and often remote,
they're hard for colonists to reach.

Even those that do, find these
are tough places to survive.

This is Fernandina,

one of the Galapagos Islands
in the Pacific.

Young and still volcanically active,
it's a desolate place.

The surrounding sea, however,
is particularly rich with life,

and the frontier between these
two very different worlds

is the home of one of the strangest
of reptiles,

sea-going iguanas.

They are vegetarians,

but since there's little food for them
on the land,

marine iguanas graze on the sea floor.

A big male like this one
can dive to 30 metres

and hold his breath for half an hour.

There are more than 7,000 individuals
on Fernandina alone.

And by bringing nutrients from the sea
to the land,

the iguanas help other animals
to survive here, too.

Crabs feed on dead skin
on the iguanas' back

and, in turn, provide
a welcome exfoliation service.

While smaller lizards prey on
the flies that pester the colony.

But not all the relationships
on this island are so harmonious.

Marine iguanas lay their eggs in sand.

In June, when the hatchlings emerge,
they're vulnerable.

They must join the adults
at the edge of the sea.

But the journey will be a dangerous one.

Racer snakes.

The snakes missed their chance.

But more babies are hatching.

And now the snakes are on the alert.

This is the best feeding opportunity
they will get all year.

On flat ground a baby iguana
can outrun a racer snake.

But others are waiting in ambush.

Another hatchling has its first glimpse
of a dangerous world.

A snake's eyes aren't very good,
but they can detect movement.

So if the hatchling keeps its nerve,
it may just avoid detection.

A near miraculous escape.

The lucky survivors

can begin learning
the unique way of life

demanded by this hostile island.

Although marine iguanas
are expert swimmers,

they can't cross open oceans.

But even the stormiest waters

are no barrier for birds.

Gale force winds and cold temperatures

make the subantarctic islands
off New Zealand

particularly unwelcoming in winter.

But when the brief summer comes,
temperatures rise and winds slacken.

It's now that visitors arrive.

All here to breed before winter returns.

There's the Snares penguins.

Shearwaters come, too.

This is an excellent place for them
to dig their nesting burrows,

for no predators
have managed to get here.

Soon the island is crowded with birds.

Every one of them eager to make
the most of the short breeding season.

But not everyone has a partner.

A male Buller's albatross
waits for his mate.

Each year they spend six months apart,
travelling the ocean.

They reunite here to breed.

But this year, she's late.

No, that's not her.

The other birds come and go.

The clock is ticking.

If she doesn't appear soon, it will be
too late for them to breed successfully.

Every morning the shearwaters fly off
to collect food for their young.

Everybody else seems
to be getting on with it.

The shearwaters' return
marks another lost day.

There are three million birds
on the island,

but only one matters to him.

Could this be her?

At last.

At first, he's a little coy.

But not for long.

They greet each other
with the special dance

they've perfected over many years.

There is much to do, if they're to raise
a chick before winter returns.

But when you've been apart
for six months,

some things can't be rushed.

Islands in warm tropical waters
don't experience seasonal extremes.

The Seychelles, lying off
the coast of East Africa,

provide a sanctuary
for seabirds all the year round.

Fairy terns are permanent residents.

They take a fairly relaxed view
about what constitutes a nest.

A bare branch is quite enough.

Climbing onto it to incubate
has to be done with care.

Once a year, the noddies arrive.

They do make nests, and Pisonia trees

provide their young with a rather
less precarious start in life.

Nesting on this island looks idyllic,

but behind the beauty
there's a sinister side.

The Seychelles fody makes quick work
of an unattended egg.

She knows something's not quite right,

but her drive to incubate is strong.

The noddies, too, have a problem.

As their chicks grow,

so the Pisonia tree
develops seeds that are sticky

and equipped with hooks.

By the time the young noddies leave

they carry these hitchhiking seeds
away to other islands.

But sometimes the Pisonia trees
are too successful.

If a fledgling testing out its wings
drops to the ground,

it can get covered with the seeds.

Entangled and weighed down,

if it can't free itself,
the youngster will starve.

The Pisonia may have failed
to disperse these seeds,

but it will soon have fertiliser
for its roots.

This is why some people call
the Pisonia the "bird catcher tree".

The Fairy tern laid another egg,

and now she has a tiny chick to feed.

This chick is lucky.

By the time it fledges,
the Pisonia seeds will have dispersed

and the danger
they brought will be gone.

Even the most idyllic looking of islands

presents challenges
for the animals living there.

But the greatest threat they face
is change.

Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

For millions of years this remote
speck of land has been ruled by crabs.

Their ancestors came from the sea,

but most have now adopted
a land-based existence.

Given there are so many of them,
they get along relatively harmoniously.

They're the gardeners and caretakers
of a tiny crab utopia.

Once a year, they must all return
to the sea to breed,

and the march of the red crabs

is one of the greatest
natural spectacles on Earth.

There are 50 million of them.

It's an event that has brought
the island worldwide fame.

But in recent years,

millions of red crabs
haven't managed to reach the sea.

An invader has occupied this island.

Yellow crazy ants.

They escape from visiting ships,
and with no predators

to control them,
they have now created vast

super colonies in the forest.

When migrating
red crabs march into their territory,

the ants attack,

squirting acid
into the crabs' eyes and mouths.

The crabs have no defence.

Blinded and confused, they're doomed.

Humans brought these ant invaders here

and now humans are having
to control them.

Isolated communities may evolve
for millions of years in relative peace,

but when new challenges arrive,
they can struggle to cope.

Of all the species that have become
extinct in recent years,

around 80% have been islanders.

Our impact on the Earth is greater today
than ever before.

Yet some islands are so remote,

that few humans have even set foot
on them.

Zavodovski Island is one.

It lies in the great Southern Ocean.

It's not only surrounded
by the stormiest of seas,

it is itself an active volcano.

It's the last place on Earth
you'd choose to live.

Unless you're a chinstrap penguin.

There's plenty of food in these waters,
but to exploit it,

the penguins have to risk their lives.

Life here is dangerous in the extreme.

But there are some benefits from living
on a volcano.

Its warmth melts the snow
early in the year

and by January,
the Antarctic's mid-summer,

the island is covered in chicks.

Parents take turns at guarding them

until they're large enough
to be left alone.

This mother's chicks are hungry,
but she has no food left to give them.

Their survival depends on their father
returning with their next meal.

But some don't make it.

Skuas harass the colony
hoping to snatch a chick.

She can't risk leaving them.

Everything will be fine
as long as their father comes back soon.

He's been fishing
80 kilometres offshore,

but now, he's not far away.

For him, however,
and for all the other parents here,

the worst of the journey
is still to come.

Tiny claws help him to get
whatever grip he can on the rough lava.

For these commuters, it's rush hour.

Some have had a really bad day.

The father now has
a three-kilometre walk to the nest,

and a stomach loaded with food
doesn't help.

This is the largest penguin colony
in the world.

But as he makes the same journey
every other day,

he should be able to do it
with his eyes closed.

It's true that there can be safety
in numbers,

but numbers can also be something
of a problem

when you're trying to find
your own nest.

The mother is still waiting.

Her chicks are now desperate.

In the midst of all this
deafening chorus,

he can recognise her particular cry.

At last.

Both chicks will get a meal.

With a head bob of acknowledgement,
their mother now leaves.

It's her turn to do the feeding run.

This formidable commute is the price
these penguins pay for sanctuary.

A strange vision of paradise to us,

but for one and a half million penguins,

this island has it all.

Islands may seem remote
and insignificant,

but they are home to some of the most
precious wildlife on Earth.

Next time,

we ascend
into the planet's high mountains

to discover a spectacular
but hostile world

where life must be
at its most resourceful,

and only the toughest animals
can endure.