Almost 60 years ago, Sir David Attenborough visited what he calls ‘the most magical place on earth’: the Great Barrier Reef. And in this landmark BBC series, Attenborough returns to explore it once more. The series consists of three hour long episodes and in this review we will look at the third and final chapter of this remarkable journey, entitled ‘Survival’.
The episode focuses on how the Great Barrier Reef has managed to remain intact over the years and what the future holds for it. Unlike many of Attenborough’s documentaries, he doesn’t just lend his voice, but has made the long trip himself, presenting and sharing discoveries on location straight to camera. He is a master of his craft and as soon as you hear his iconic voice, you become absorbed in everything he has to say. The episode begins by drawing comparisons to the changes in the reef since Attenborough’s last visit and how it has managed to survive. The reef, located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia, has had to endure 4 major floods on record, and with climate change and global warming constantly evolving, it must soon withstand even more natural disaster.
The documentary follows a familiar format, as we see the inhabitants of the reef beautifully filmed up close and personal. An Attenborough doc wouldn’t be the same without a predatory battle, and in this case it’s between a crab and a crown-of-thorns starfish. A familiar kind of scene for entertainment purposes, but this documentary plays more as an educational film, as it delves into the scientific and thought-provoking side of nature. The underlying message of this episode is to highlight the need to help protect the reef. Global warming and human activity is largely to blame for causing 4 plagues since the 1960s, killing many of its inhabitants due to the dying coral. We see that scientists are doing their best to breed more coral and speed up the natural processes of evolution, but other humans are not doing enough, with one expert even saying we will all “pay the price” for this. With a quarter of the world’s fish having lived in the reef, it’s clearly an integral part of our world.
The documentary flows nicely, but sometimes you may find yourself a little lost and slightly bored with the repetitiveness of its themes. However, your attention is always brought back by the masterful Attenborough, his enthusiasm is contagious and the big moment of the show is the discovery made by Attenborough himself whilst travelling via a submarine, a record 300 metres deep in the reef to unearth a new species of coral never found before, which President Obama even commended him for in their recent exchange. The production of the show is as impressive as ever and the music is used sensibly, always reflecting the mood well as it sweeps along with you, just like the ocean itself. At the closing of the episode, we are shown how some of the events unfolded in the show were produced behind the camera, and we are reminded of how brave and imaginative the filmmakers are, and in particular, an almost 90 year old David Attenborough.
Great Barrier Reef may not quite be on a par with Attenborough’s previous documentaries such as Life and Planet Earth, but it’s still another fascinating nature documentary from the BBC, and it also doubles up as a powerful warning piece about the impending climate issues we face unless we start taking more action.