Fly across iridescent tropical reefs, brush through a cloud of a million jellyfish, visit an alien world where the closer you look, the more you see, where the tiniest creatures support the greatest predators... We think of reefs as exotic, distant places with little or no connection to our everyday world. Yet every reef is a living city beneath the sea with a parallel existence to ours, distant yet undeniably connected. Reefs are hotspots of biodiversity as vital to life on earth as the rain-forests. They have been shaping our shorelines, literally forming islands and mountains, for millions of years. The fossil record shows that given time they have recovered from all of earth's major extinction events. Even reefs pulverised by atomic blasts at Bikini Atoll have regenerated. Yet within our lifetime reefs have come to face their greatest threat...
The extraordinary wildlife, culture and history of this immense, fascinating ocean and its myriad islands are revealed in stunning detail. With its coral reefs, turquoise lagoons and dramatic oceanic atolls, the South Pacific is the archetypal paradise. It is still relatively healthy and teeming with fish, but it is a fragile paradise. International fishing fleets are taking a serious toll on the sharks, albatross and tuna, and there are other insidious threats to these bountiful seas. We look at what is being done to preserve the ocean and its wildlife.
The documentary deals with the future of conservation. It begins by looking at previous efforts. The 'Save The Whales' campaign, which started in the 1960s, is seen to have had a limited effect, as whaling continues and fish stocks also decline. In the 1990s, as head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Richard Leakey took on the poachers by employing armed units. Although it was successful in saving elephants, the policy was detrimental to the Maasai people, who were forced from their land. The need for "fortress" areas is questioned, and the recently highlighted Raja Ampat coral reef in Indonesia is an example. The more tourism it generates, the greater the potential for damage — and inevitable coastal construction. Sustainable development is viewed as controversial, and one contributor perceives it to currently be a "contradiction in terms". Trophy hunting is also contentious. Those that support it argue that it generates wealth for local economies, while its opponents point to the reducing numbers of species such as the markhor. Ecotourism is shown to be beneficial, as it is in the interests of its providers to protect their environments. However, in some areas, such as the Borneo rainforests, the great diversity of species is being replaced by monocultures. The role of both religion and the media in conservation is argued to be extremely important. Contributors to the programme admit a degree of worry about the future, but also optimism.
The fifth programme explores the alliances formed between the animal and plant worlds. Attenborough dives into Australia's Great Barrier Reef and contrasts the nocturnal feeding of coral, on microscopic creatures, with its daytime diet of algae. Some acacias are protected by ants, which will defend their refuge from any predator. Besides accommodation, the guards are rewarded with nectar and, from certain species, protein for their larvae as well. Fungi feed on plants but can also provide essential nutriment to saplings (Mycorrhiza). The connection is never broken throughout a tree's life and a quarter of the sugars and starches produced in its leaves is channelled back to its fungal partners. Meanwhile, fungi that feed on dead wood leave a hollow trunk, which also benefits the tree. Orchids enjoy a similar affiliation. Lichens are the product of a relationship between fungi and a photosynthetic associate, usually algae. They are extremely slow-growing, and a graveyard is the perfect location to discover their exact longevity. Mistletoe is a hemiparasite that obtains its moisture from a host tree, while using own leaves to manufacture food. Its seeds are deposited on another by the mistletoe tyrannulet, following digestion of the fruit. The dodder (Cuscuta) is also parasitic, generally favouring nettles, and siphons its nourishment through periodic 'plugs' along its stem. The rafflesia has no stem or leaves and only emerges from its host in order to bloom — and it produces the largest single flower: one metre across.
Category:Nature Duration:49:00 Series: The Private Life of Plants
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