The world’s biggest reef
The Great Barrier Reef is vast, 2000km long and as far as 160km offshore, so capturing its greatest spectacles and most amazing characters posed many challenges.
From their base in Cairns, Northern Queensland, Australia, the production team and film crews could cover the length of the reef. The teams often spent weeks at sea in order to reach the remotest locations, some of which had never been filmed before.
The team's underwater cameramen spent over 600 hours underwater, using both conventional SCUBA and the latest re-breather equipment so they could remain as long as possible at depth. Remote Operated Vehicles ( ‘R.O.V.s’ ) were piloted to the drop-off , many hundreds of metres down to the seabed, filming for the first time many scenes from the deep ocean alongside the reef.
For the first time, filmmakers also turned their attention to the seldom explored lagoon that lies between the reef and mainland Australia. Here they filmed many behaviours seldom seen before and species never before recorded on the Great Barrier Reef.
Image: Cameraman Chris Sammut, filming a nautilus at Osprey Reef Copyright: John Rumney.
Spying on the reef
To snoop on areas of the reef without the disturbance unavoidably caused by divers, the team bugged wildlife hotspots on the reef with remote camera technology. This enabled them to capture intimate moments in the lives of reef animals.
Rays were filmed stopping at cleaning stations, seven tonne whales were recorded swimming right past the shallow coral gardens, within a few feet of clownfish, and critical moments were captured as lemon sharks hunted in the shallows.
With help from scientists they were even able to harmlessly attach cameras to turtles, filming the tense moments when they run the gauntlet of patrolling tiger sharks.
Image: Chris Sammut setting up a remote camera in a rockpool on Heron Island
Copyright: James Brickell
The aquarium studio
Part of the success of the series was due to a partnership with James Cook University in Cairns. Their scientific research facilities include a giant reef tank complete with all its inhabitants, where a variety of reef animals are studied. The facilities in the 'marine aquarium studio' enabled the team to capture specialist close-up shots that would not be possible in the wild.
Being able to precisely control light and nutrient levels, whilst leaving cameras running for days at a time, enabled series cameraman and marine biologist Richard Fitzpatrick to film time-lapse sequences of corals. Richard was also able to film the precise microscopic details when corals bleach, expelling their plant-like partners that give them their colour, a feat that hasn’t been achieved before in a wildlife documentary.
Perhaps the trickiest of all the specialist coral sequences involved capturing the first stages when a free-swimming coral polyp settles and begins growing its stony skeleton. To accomplish this, Richard and his team had to recreate perfect conditions for coral growth. Training their time-lapse cameras on the precise spot where a coral node would 'take' - like a microscopic plant - marking the key moment when new reefs are created.
Image: Coral polyps in one of James Cook University's tanks Copyright: James Brickell
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