Planet Earth III (2023) s01e01 Episode Script


Almost 200 years ago,
whilst walking these very paths
in the English countryside
and observing the banks and meadows
near his home,
Charles Darwin developed
his ground-breaking ideas
about evolution,
casting a new light
on the natural world
and opening our eyes
to its true wonder.
Since then, we've explored
almost every part of the planet
and seen nature in its
astounding variety.
But there's still much to discover.
In this new series
of Planet Earth
..we travel to the most astonishing
wild places
..see mysterious creatures
..witness spectacular wonders
..and reveal breathtaking
animal dramas.
The natural world
continues to surprise us.
But since Darwin's time,
it has changed beyond recognition
..transformed by a powerful force.
We will see how animals are adapting
in extraordinary ways
to survive the new challenges
they face.
At this crucial time in our history,
we must now look at the world
through a new lens.
This is Planet Earth III.
Tasmania, Shipstern's Bluff
..where two worlds collide.
These waves have crossed more than
1,000 miles of open ocean
..building in strength.
It's here that they meet
their explosive end.
Coasts are dangerous
and dynamic frontiers.
To succeed here,
life must adapt to constant change.
South Africa's Robberg Peninsula.
Thousands of Cape fur seals
gather here to breed.
This pup was born
into a crowded world.
But now, at nearly a year old,
he can escape to the water.
He just has to get there.
There is no question
as to where this pup belongs.
In the water, he's fast and agile.
And he needs to be.
The rolling surf conceals
life-threatening dangers.
A great white shark.
This young pup
has had a very lucky escape.
Here on Africa's southern coast,
seals risk their lives
every time they set out to eat.
Powerful ocean currents
attract huge shoals of fish.
But in recent years,
this stretch has attracted increased
numbers of great whites too.
The great whites are shrewd hunters
and use whatever cover is available.
This shark won't need to eat
for another few days.
But he's not alone.
These usually solitary hunters
are gathering in
unprecedented numbers.
A dozen at a time.
The seals are nimble
..but great whites are patient
..and have explosive acceleration
..hitting top speed with just
five swipes of their tails.
..the seals keep close
to the jagged cliffs.
They are trapped.
But as the great whites
move in for the kill
..the seals do something
..they turn on their enemy.
As more join, the mob grows both number and confidence.
The tables are turning.
By sheer force of numbers
..these fur seals drive the world's
most notorious predator
..back out to sea.
Here, animals are adapting
to new challenges
in a rapidly changing world.
In the Arctic
..monumental change
is a regular event.
Visitors are arriving en masse
..attracted by the biggest
seasonal transformation
on any coast on Earth.
Over 300 billion tonnes
of ice are melting
..releasing nutrient-rich water.
Extraordinary newcomers
appear from the depths.
A sea angel.
No bigger than your little finger.
It's eaten little for months.
Its empty stomach glows orange.
And there are other hungry arrivals.
A sea butterfly.
A snail with wings.
Both angel and butterfly are blind.
But each monitors minute changes in
the water as they search for a meal.
This angel has a devilish side.
Its mouth parts invert
to form a deadly trap
of tentacles
..from which there is
little chance of escape.
With a stomach full of prey,
this angel has lost its glow
..but not its appetite.
It feasts while it can.
Both predator and prey
will soon return to the depths
..before the ice transforms
this coast once again.
..where desert lions
roam across vast territories.
These desert cats are on
a never-ending search for food.
And that has brought
these young sisters
Africa's infamous Skeleton Coast.
Following years of persecution,
Namibia's lions are now protected
..and their range
is expanding again.
These are the first to be seen
on these shores for 40 years.
By day, there is little
for them here.
But at night,
it's a different story.
Sea birds come here to roost
in their thousands.
These hungry sisters have never
seen an opportunity like this.
But no cats,
certainly no desert cats,
enjoy getting their paws wet.
These roosting cormorants
are sitting ducks
for hunters with good night vision.
In theory.
Birds are not a big cat's
usual prey,
let alone sea birds.
And these sisters
need to get their eye in.
Catching flying prey
in the dark is not easy
..but these lions
have acquired the knack.
Coasts can not only provide food
..they can also be a sanctuary.
This female southern right whale
is nearing the end
of a 5,000 mile journey
across open ocean.
She's kept a steady course a special place
she has known all her life.
Peninsula Valdes, Argentina.
In these calm, shallow waters
..her behaviour starts to change.
She rolls and shifts her great body.
Perhaps she's trying
to get comfortable.
Other females are close by.
Some have been coming here
for five decades
..seeking the shelter of this bay
at a key time in their lives.
This whale is here give birth.
A new life begins.
The calf is totally dependent
on its mother.
She's producing as much
as 200 litres of milk a day.
The strength she loses,
the calf gains.
And it becomes more and more
independent and playful.
In this nursery bay,
there are plenty of playmates.
But a mother never lets her calf
stray too far
..and will always offer
a welcome embrace.
The family keeps in constant contact
with whispered calls.
New research has revealed
that in shallow coastal waters,
their calls not only fade quickly,
but are also concealed by the sound
of waves breaking on the shore they won't attract
the attention of predators.
Not so long ago,
these whales faced a graver threat.
They were hunted to near extinction.
But 40 years ago,
commercial whaling was banned.
Today, their population
is 12,000 strong
..and this bay now attracts
one of the largest gatherings
of these whales anywhere on Earth.
There are over a million miles
of coastline around the world.
Together, they constitute the
most varied habitat on the planet.
Here on Canada's west coast,
some of the most powerful
of all ocean currents
deliver a constant
supply of nutrients
to the shores of countless islands.
And those that live here
take full advantage.
This is the aptly-named
wandering garter snake.
He may seem out of place
..but he's here to eat.
The water here is more than
ten degrees colder than the air.
But that doesn't deter this intrepid
hunter from taking the plunge.
Under the water,
there is an abundance of food
..if he can catch it.
Snakes are cold-blooded,
so he can't stay in these
chilly waters for long.
Back in the sunshine,
he warms his head,
perhaps sharpening his senses.
And then, with a gulp of air
..he continues his hunt.
It's thought that garter snakes
can use their forked tongue
underwater as they do in air,
smelling in stereo
..detecting prey wherever it hides.
He's got something.
A small fish.
Now, he has to land it.
For those animals able to cross
the divide between land and sea,
there are surprising rewards.
Raja Ampat in Indonesia.
Here, there's a greater
variety of animals
than on any other coast on Earth.
The corals are protected
by mangroves.
Salt tolerant trees that prop
themselves on curving aerial roots.
These fish have learned how to
catch prey from high in the trees.
Archerfish use jets of water
like arrows.
This pinpoint accuracy
..requires some
complex calculations.
The hunter first estimates
the range of its target
..then loads with a precise
amount of water.
Aiming, they allow
for the refraction and distortion
created by the water's
moving surface.
And then
..release arrow of water.
They can hit prey
up to two metres above them.
But they're not born
with this skill.
They have to learn it.
And they do that by studying others.
This youngster is watching
a master at work.
It's time for the apprentice
to have a go.
First, he must select a target.
This seems rather ambitious.
Others watch to learn
from his mistakes.
Or steal his prize.
Enough is enough.
There is one way
to beat the thieves.
The archer himself
..becomes the arrow.
Mangroves are unusually
stable coastal environments,
where an archerfish can focus
on beating the competition.
But on the exposed coast
of Mexico's Yucatan,
life is precarious.
Concentrated by
the tropical sunshine,
the brine in these shallow lagoons
cannot be tolerated by most animals.
And yet, these Caribbean flamingos
have flown hundreds of miles
to gather here.
These hypersaline waters
keep many predators at bay it's here they choose to nest.
There are more than
10,000 pairs here.
It's the largest breeding colony
in North America.
Nest mounds keep chicks
clear of the brine
while they are still
at their most vulnerable.
But this generation faces a problem.
The storms that come each season
are arriving earlier every year.
And the colony lies directly
in their path.
Rising winds create a storm surge
that overwhelms
the most exposed nests.
And then rains.
The adults do what they can,
bailing out their nests.
But they can only do so much.
The storm passes,
but leaves devastation in its wake.
Most nests are submerged.
The chicks are soaked and cold
..and will soon perish
..unless they can
get out of the water.
The adults are unable to help.
A chick must save itself.
Some years,
no chicks survive in this colony.
Our coasts are vulnerable places.
Increasingly so, as rising global
temperatures create bigger storms.
The biggest are hurricanes.
They form over warm tropical water,
building in strength at sea.
But their full force
is unleashed on our coasts
..where 40% of the world's human
population have made their homes.
In this changing world
..coasts are on the front line.
Raine Island.
One of the planet's most important
breeding sites
for one particularly
precious species.
The green turtle.
On a few special nights each year,
as many as 20,000 females
come ashore here.
Their instinct to nest is strong
..and many haul themselves far
inland in search of nesting space.
In a single night, they may lay
as many as two million eggs.
This exhausted female has nested,
but now she faces
a long return journey
through the dunes to the sea.
As the sun rises
..she's at risk of being
baked alive.
Every inch she travels is gruelling.
And the ebbing tide
has exposed a rocky reef.
It has already claimed many lives.
Other females overcome
by heat and exhaustion.
Her temperature is rising.
She has to keep going.
As many as 2,000 female turtles
may die here each year.
But the coast is always changing.
And the turning tide
may yet save her.
Half of all the green turtles
in the Pacific come here to nest,
as they have done
for at least 1,000 years.
But for how much longer?
If sea levels rise as predicted,
within the next 30 years,
Raine Island will disappear
beneath the waves.
Coasts are dynamic,
dangerous frontiers
..and they are changing faster
than ever before in human history.
Life is remarkably resilient
..and adapts to new challenges.
But there is a limit
on how fast it can do so.
As far as I know,
I was one of the first people to
film on Raine Island, back in 1957.
YOUNGER DAVID: After a fortnight
of travelling north,
we at last sighted Raine Island.
From the sea, it looked no more than
a low sandbank covered in scrub.
But as we rowed ashore,
we were deafened by the cries
of thousands of sea birds
which hung above the island
like a black cloud.
I was 31 and it was here
that I first met a green turtle.
The turtles come up to lay at night,
and after a night spent laying
maybe over 100 eggs,
she's very weary and very anxious
to get back to the sea.
Nearly 70 years later,
the Planet Earth III team
are welcomed by people
whose connection to the island goes
back very much further than mine.
Welcome to Raine!
The Wuthathi and Meriam people
have been coming here
for several thousand years.
Raine Island's a beautiful
and special place.
Like, there's nowhere
else on the planet
where you come and see
this much turtles.
It's a wonder to see.
Since I was there, it's been
discovered that Raine Island
attracts more nesting green turtles
than anywhere else on the planet.
There's so many, isn't there?
As soon as you're up, you're like,
"Oh, there are a lot."
And the crew soon meet
some other residents too.
This is behind
the behind the scenes!
See you, mate!
The team are here to record
the mother turtles'
perilous journeys back to the sea.
Oh, God.
Trapped turtles can often
free themselves
with the help of the rising tide.
Nearly. Just a bit more to
the right there. Yeah, there.
But in this case, Keron
makes the decision to intervene.
Ready? One, two, three.
Yeah, any time we're here
we'll walk the beach.
Any turtles that have no chance
of making it back to the ocean,
if we can save them, we save them,
because every turtle is precious.
At the time of my first visit,
little was known to outsiders
about Raine Island.
But for the last few decades,
scientists have been working with
the Wuthathi and Meriam people
to understand more
about this special place.
Scientists have been coming to Raine
Island since about the mid '70s
and over that time
they've been monitoring
the nesting population here.
This work involves long hours
..and a certain degree of patience.
We're going to be wearing half of
Raine Island by the end of tonight!
Helping the year's first hatchlings
is a little easier.
So we'll take these ones
down to the water's edge
and so hopefully we'll see
these turtles back here,
laying eggs in 30 years' time.
With the help of this
dedicated team,
Raine Island's turtles might
seem to have a good future.
But research is revealing
a hidden threat.
The direct effects
of climate change.
Do you want to hold this against
the flat part of the data-logger?
A developing turtle's sex
is determined by the temperature
of its nest.
Higher temperatures
produce female hatchlings.
The temperature of the sand on Raine
Island is now at a record high.
So 99% of the turtles
that hatch here are female.
More alarmingly, we now know
this has been case
for at least the last 20 years.
You do the maths.
All females, no males.
What's going to happen?
There's going to be
a population crash
and there'll be no more turtle.
Work is under way to find solutions.
But that's not their only problem.
Not only are temperatures rising,
sea levels are too.
Increasingly, high tides on Raine
are flooding many of the nests
from below
..drowning the developing turtles
before they hatch.
It's really upsetting.
You'll dig down to check
to see success,
and you get down to the nests
and you're just pulling up
dead eggs.
To try to stop this happening, they
have devised a heavy-duty solution.
These machines have been
shipped hundreds of miles
from the Australian mainland
to re-shape the beach.
They have already shifted sand
that would fill 16 Olympic-sized
swimming pools
and doubled the number
of safe nesting sites.
The hope is that this will ensure
that over five million more eggs
will hatch in the next decade.
But from then on, the future of
Raine Island looks very uncertain.
At this stage, we think
that we have to about 2050
until we start seeing massive
impacts of sea level rise.
It's crazy to think that,
you know, the work that we do here,
someone might not be doing this
in 30 years' time
cos there's no island to do it on.
What sort of world is it going to be
for my children and their children?
Is there going to be anything for
..for them? Or is it
..all in vain?
We'll always be here fighting
for Raine Island, for the turtles.
But we can't do it alone and
we need government and big business
to wake up and see what they're
doing to the planet and get real.
This little fellow
is newly hatched from an egg
which had been laid
a month or so earlier
and he too is very anxious
to get down to the sea.
Having at last successfully
reached the water,
he's still got a great number of
hazards to face before he grows up.
Little did I know then
what hazards that little turtle
would have to face
or the extraordinary lengths
to which people would go
to protect it and its island.
In the 66 years since my visit,
Raine Island has remained
the most important green turtle
nesting site on the planet.
The question is,
can it last another lifetime?
Next time extraordinary journey
through the ocean.
The last unexplored
frontier on our planet
..where life has evolved the most surprising ways.
Habitat Explorer brings animals
and their habitats to life.
Explore this free interactive
and make origami animals.
Go to
and follow the links
to the Open University.
Or to order a free printed version,
visit the website
or call the numbers on the screen.
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