This is the first episode of the Planet Earth III series. What is it all about?
In this opening episode, we show that the natural world is still full of surprises. Coasts are where two worlds collide, a frontier between land and sea, ruled by constant change, and the arena for breath-taking animal dramas where life must battle the elements and each other.
What was the most challenging sequence to film?
Coasts was a particularly ambitious undertaking, with completely new, never-before-studied (let alone filmed!) stories in garter snakes and archer fish, outright gambles in filming Namibia’s elusive lions on the coast, some extraordinary crew endeavour to capture flamingos in a storm, technological firsts in southern right whales and a very… long… wait… for specific conditions for the opening surfing sequence. But one story stands out for me.
The struggle between the Cape fur seals and the great white shark has been a developing story on the South African coast for the last few years. The sharks’ increased presence on this stretch of coast is still poorly understood, as is their behaviour generally. And of course, they are notoriously dangerous predators. The crew themselves had to become the experts in order to capture the most complete telling of this scene ever told. This took a nail biting four years.
With each year, and every shoot, the team (including local boat and camera operators, and international crew, all overseen by Assistant Producer Georgie Ward) refined their understanding of the sharks and the fur seals, and the methods required to capture the action safely, but up close on camera. The final shoot in 2021 was a culmination of all that hard work, delivering some of the most compelling shots of great white sharks ever captured, and an extraordinary record of their interaction with their plucky prey.
What academic research has come off the back of the filming of this episode?
The footage of great white sharks captured over four years is an important scientific record that has been supplied to a local NGO to be studied. The Rockhopper Fund is coordinating research into the sharks of the Plettenberg Bay. The footage will be used to understand if the same sharks return year on year and whether, as is suspected, they’re the same individuals that have mysteriously vanished from their previous stronghold, off Cape Town. Sadly, in 2022, great white sharks were responsible for two human fatalities in Plettenberg Bay. The Rockhopper Fund is seeking to protect sharks and people by facilitating a greater understanding.
In rather different circumstances, our crew embarked on filming terrestrial garter snakes hunting in the intertidal zone of British Columbia’s gulf islands. The story first came to our attention through a handful of anecdotal reports. Following a couple of recces, the team embarked upon a shoot with many unanswered questions and a high degree of trepidation. As it turned out the team had discovered an extraordinary population of these snakes, who didn’t just venture into the water, but seem to specialise in doing so during the warm summer months. The footage has been supplied to Patrick Gregory, a veteran herpetologist, who intends to study the images to get a better understanding of how these land-living snakes can take the plunge.
What do you hope the impact of this episode will be?
The coast brings to mind holidays and beaches, and an enviable lifestyle, but it is so much more than that. This unique habitat stretches for a million miles,* a frontier wrought by constant change where the most surprising animals must do the extraordinary to survive. But the coast is also where we can see, perhaps more clearly than anywhere, just how quickly our world is changing.
More about Planet Earth III Ep1 – Coasts
Nick Easton, Producer and Director, Coasts
Nick Easton is Producer-Director for the Coasts and Freshwater episodes of Planet Earth III. Nick is passionate about inspiring audiences about the natural world with compelling stories. He joined the BBC in 2008, and over the course of his career he’s been involved in Emmy and Prix Italia winning films, he’s filmed fighting giraffes (Africa, 2013), sheep-herding drones (Wild New Zealand, 2016) and pumas hunting penguins (Big Cats, 2018). For Planet Earth III Nick oversaw nearly 30 shoots on four continents, from cave-diving in Mexico to ancient meadows in Kent, once frequented by Darwin himself. Nick features in the Making of Planet Earth III segment for Freshwater, leading a crew to film the rescue of an Indus river dolphin in Pakistan. During the course of the production, Nick also became a father twice over… it’s been a busy few years.