Once again, I began my Sunday night routine with my flatmates by watching Blue Planet 2, followed by another Louis Theroux documentary. Episode 2 last week brought in a staggering 14.1 million viewers, making it the UK’s most-watched TV show of 2017 and 3rd most-watched in the last 5 years (after the 2014 World Cup final and last year’s GBBO final).
Blue Planet 2 did not disappoint as per usual, providing some absolutely spectacular scene of the wonders of coral reefs. The reefs themselves occupy 0.1% of the ocean floor, yet host up to 25% of all marine life, ranging from hypnotic cuttlefish to the bobbit worm – one of the most terrifying sea creatures that I’ve ever seen! Coral reefs host such a variety of life due to the highly competitive nature of the marine organisms that reside there, encouraging different species to find their own niche within the ecosystem.
The first scene introduces us to the broadclub cuttlefish, using the millions of pigments on its skin it can change colour at the flick of a switch, just like a TV. Using this to its advantage, the cuttlefish was able to easily pick off its prey throughout the coral reefs and even used this to hypnotise a crab. A blacktip reef shark then swims by, scaring even the cuttlefish away. Next, we were shown how a large grouper fish and an octopus have learnt to work together, flushing small fish out from the protection of their home and straight into the grouper’s mouth.
Fun fact: without sharks in our waters, the oceans would most likely be dominated by octopi and squid as the apex predators.
Next, we are shown some incredible close-up shots of microscopic coral polyps, these accumulate in the millions to create the multi-cellular organism that is coral. This scene was so amazing that even I thought it was CGI or some sort of animation, but it was in fact filmed using a super macro time-lapse camera. Although each polyp is microscopic, they create structures large enough to be observed from space! We then see how some corals meet their demise – through the parrot fish (quite literally). Here, the fish use their reinforced beaks to break up small pieces of coral and excrete what can only be described as sand, must be uncomfortable!
The inhabitants of coral reefs also work together, a green turtle descends on “Turtle Rock”, a large hollow in a coral platform. Once settled down the neighbouring blennies come out of their crevices and pick off any parasites on the turtle’s shell, recent research has actually shown how this type of ocean spa actually decreases stress levels in the turtle by increasing levels of cortisol. Unfortunately, this turtle was caught on the wrong side of several larger males and was shoved to the back of the queue awaiting treatment.
Following this, we meet a pod of bottlenose dolphins who have returned from a night of hunting, while the adults sleep (by turning half of their brain to autopilot), the juveniles adventure around the reef and play with different pieces of coral to see which one sinks the quickest.
Past the tidewaters of the coral reef are sheltered sand flats which are often provide plentiful feeding grounds, however the fish must always must be aware of their surroundings as there is nowhere to hide. Even the poisonous lion fish stands no chance against the giant bobbit worm, what can only be described as a 10ft long carnivorous worm with dagger-like pincers. Trust me, you would not want to step on top of its den if you were exploring a reef!
Coral reefs all across the globe are somehow interlinked, once a year every single coral simultaneously releasing their spores in an attempt to reproduce and regenerate any lost reef area. Not only this, but other animals releasing their eggs at the same time, the picture pans to a mantis shrimp who is literally holding its eggs like a bundle of confetti, ready to be thrown into the passing currents. Considering that the final scene involves a heavy amount of coral bleaching and how once multicoloured cities have turned into bleak ruins, this annual event highlights how the future of coral reefs may quite literally come from a coral species which is able to resist the increasing acidity of our oceans. So, don’t fear, all is not quite lost within the realm of coral reefs, however it doesn’t mean that we are in the clear by any means. If you want to learn more about coral bleaching then I would highly recommend the documentary “Chasing Coral” – they literally show how vast amounts of the coral reef expanses can bleach over the course of one year.
On a lighter note, this week’s episode is about open oceans, so expect lots of dolphins, whales and sharks to be on your TV screens at 8pm this Sunday!