Preview: Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough

As David Attenborough's new natural history series hits BBC1, we give you a little preview – and get the inside scoop from the legendary presenter himself

5 mins
Two years ago, the BBC asked David Attenborough where he most wanted to go in the world and, without hesitation, his answer was the Great Barrier Reef. He had first visited the Reef – so huge it can be seen from space – in 1957, and it was calling to him. So, after narrating several recent natural history series, we now have the honour of a three-part series in which he is squarely in front of the camera again.

And what a treat it is. Based aboard the Alucia, a 56-metre research vessel, Attenborough and his team had scientists, laboratories, and a helicopter at their fingertips. But, most groundbreaking of all is a state of the art Triton submersible, which takes Attenborough deep below the surface, to a level that can’t be reached by divers. That, combined with sophisticated filming techniques, results in breathtaking footage of creatures great and small.

Great Barrier Reef (Shutterstock)
Great Barrier Reef (Shutterstock)

As well as getting caught up in the lives of corals and the courtship of the mantis shrimp, you’ll get to marvel at David Attenborough himself. Vintage black and white footage shows his 1957 visit and it is clear that, nearly 60 years on, he has lost none of his boyish enthusiasm, curiosity and mental vigour. The wonder on his face as he descends in the submarine is the image you will long remember.

Event television at its best.

At a recent preview of the series, David Attenborough answered questions from the audience, which included Wanderlust’s Lyn Hughes.

On being asked by the BBC where he would most like to go:
“The Great Barrier Reef is one of the greatest treasures of the natural world. Within 10 minutes we had agreed that I could go, and could make three programmes. It was an extraordinary conversation.”

When asked about the experience of going underwater in the submersible:
“It was an engineering miracle. It even had a toilet! But it was very intimate. It’s like something from the movies. You’re in a bubble.The further down you go, it becomes a bit creepy. Finally at 10,000 feet you are at the bottom with that great cliff above you. At the bottom it looks like sand, but it is coral detritus; calcium carbonate, excreted by parrot fish.

“It was a huge experience and a great privilege. My eye was simply ravished by the splendour, diversity and richness of the reef.”

When asked about concerns of coral being damaged by tourists on the Great Barrier Reef:
“The coral is easily damaged. But in my experience most visitors are very well behaved and treat it with respect. They treat it with reverence.

“The biggest issue at the moment is the speed at which the planet is warming. And not just for the Reef, but for everywhere. The greatest environmental concern is the warming of the planet and the speed in which the human species is increasing. There are now three times as many people on the planet as when I was first in the Great Barrier Reef.” 

His favourite creature from the Great Barrier Reef:
“The mantis shrimp is a fabulous thing. They are extraordinary, wonderful creatures.”

Favourite place on earth?
“You have just seen it... Australia’s Great Barrier Reef!”

Fancy making the journey for yourself? See our guide to the Great Barrier Reef 

Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough starts on BBC1 at 9pm on 30 December

Main image: Freddie Claire/BBC/Atlantic Productions

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