World - Planet Earth III Episode 1 Coasts - Everything you need to know

Discover how and where Planet Earth III - Coasts was filmed and discover why "the natural world is still full of surprises"

David Attenborough looks at the world’s coasts - dangerous frontiers ruled by powerful forces, where animals battle to survive amidst constant change.

On South Africa’s Robberg Peninsula, thousands of Cape fur seals squeeze onto a small ledge. A yearling pup escapes to the water, where the clumsy youngster becomes nimble and graceful. In recent years, this coast has attracted unprecedented numbers of great white sharks and the seal colony must band together if they’re to see off the world’s most notorious predator.

The Arctic coast is the scene of the biggest seasonal transformation on Earth, where the melting of billions of tonnes of ice brings short-lived opportunities to coastal waters. Animals arrive on masse, including one of the strangest of all: a sea angel. This beguiling creature has a devilish side – it’s a voracious predator whose ambush wouldn’t be amiss in a sci-fi horror.

On Namibia’s infamous Skeleton Coast, where the world’s oldest desert meets the cold Atlantic, we meet some unexpected residents: hungry lions discover this coast for the first time in 40 years and try their luck at hunting amidst a huge seabird colony.*

Coasts attract visitors from further afield too - a southern right whale reaches her journey’s end at Península Valdés, Argentina, and in British Columbia terrestrial garter snakes take the plunge into chilly waters in search of a meal.

In tropical Raja Ampat, Indonesia, coral reef is sheltered by a forest of Mangrove trees, which are salttolerant and rooted in the seabed, providing a unique opportunity for archer fish, which use jets of water like arrows to shoot down insects from high above.

By contrast, the shallow lagoons of Mexico’s Yucatan are very exposed, and it’s here in these hostile, hypersaline pools that Caribbean flamingos choose to nest. But can their offspring survive the tropical storms that have arrived early?

Coasts are the frontline in our changing world, and the increasingly unpredictable storms and sea level rise pose urgent threats to those that make their homes near the coast, including nearly 40% of the world’s human population.*

On the tiny Raine Island, tens of thousands of female green turtles come ashore to nest, but many are stranded by the ebbing tide; the island is on borrowed time, and the world’s largest green turtle rookery is set to disappear beneath the waves. The end of the episode reveals the speed of change since David Attenborough’s first expedition, in 1957. Little could he have known just how much the island would change in 66 years.


Filming locations and species

Surfer Marti Paridiso paddles out to catch a wave at Shipsterns Bluff, Tasmania. Camera operator in water filming it
Surfer Marti Paridiso paddles out to catch a wave at Shipsterns Bluff, Tasmania. The action is being filmed for the opening scene of Planet Earth III by Steve Wall, surfer turned camera operator, who can safely operate in the churning waves. (Image: BBC Studios/Matt Dunbar)
  • David Attenborough’s introduction: Downe Bank, Kent, UK
  • Surf opener: Shipstern Bluff, Tasmania, Australia
  • Great white sharks and cape fur seal: Robberg Peninsula, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
  • Sea angel and sea butterflies: The White Sea, Russia
  • Lions: Skeleton Coast, Namibia
  • Southern right whales: Península Valdés, Chubut, Argentina
  • Flamingos: Río Lagartos, Yucatán, Mexico
  • Garter snakes: East Point, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, British Columbia, Canada
  • Archer fish: Raja Ampat, Indonesia
  • Turtles: Raine Island, Cape York, Queensland, Australia

In numbers…

  • Number of shoots: 13
  • Number of shoots managed remotely: seven
  • Number of filming days: 218
  • Longest journey travelling to location: Raja Ampat, took four days
  • Fun fact: over the course of 25 days spent filming flamingos in Río Lagartos, the crew consumed 200 sandwiches.
  • Rarest species documented include…
  • Southern right whale: In 2009 the population was estimated at 13,600.*
  • Great white shark: No conclusive estimates on how many are left.
  • Sea angels and sea butterflies: Rarely seen.

Filming feats…

  • Southern right whales: The first ‘onboard’ view from a southern right whale – a specially designed and custom built motion ‘tag’ camera reveals a whale’s-eye-view of Península Valdés, a key breeding site for these gentle giants.
  • Great white sharks: The team captured the most complete account of great white shark and cape fur seal interactions on the South African coast, now being analysed by scientists.
  • Garter snakes: Newly recorded garter snake behaviour, showing this terrestrial snake hunting in marine shallows, now being analysed by a herpetologist.
  • Archer fish: The team succeeded in capturing an intimate and detailed account of the unique behaviour of archer fish, entirely in the wild. Cameraman Mitch Buckley said: “The most unexpected challenge was the trigger-happy habits of these fish. A hopeful archer fish will fire at anything that seems out of place, just to see if they can knock it down… They got me in my ear and on more than one occasion, right in my eye.”


A crashing wave rises up the cliff at Shipsterns Bluff, Tasmania.
A crashing wave rises up the cliff at Shipsterns Bluff, Tasmania. (Image: BBC Studios/Nick Green)

Georgina Ward, Assistant Producer

Georgina Ward is an Assistant Producer for the Coasts and Extremes episodes. She grew up in Bristol, and inspired by the natural history produced in the city, she pursued a degree in Zoology and spent a summer tracking tigers in Bangladesh. Since joining the BBC in 2014 she has worked across a range of productions, including Blue Planet II, Earth’s Tropical Islands and Countryfile. Filming has taken her from the jungles of Borneo where proboscis monkeys leap into crocodile infested water, to coastal Florida investigating the impact plastic is having on marine life. For Planet Earth III Georgie followed sharks in South Africa, flamingos breeding in Mexico, tracked snow leopards in Mongolia and she spent almost three weeks underground filming inside Vietnam’s largest cave system - Hang Son Doong (the longest time anyone has ever spent in the cave). In her spare time Georgie teaches scuba diving in Bristol.

Estelle Cheuk, Assistant Producer

In addition to Coasts, Estelle Cheuk also worked as an Assistant Producer on Planet Earth III’s Heroes episode. Estelle grew up on the coast of Northern Ireland, where she developed a love of the ocean and its wildlife. Studying Human Sciences at university, Estelle became increasingly interested in conservation and the important role humans play in protecting the natural world. Hoping to educate and inspire others to care for wildlife and wild places, Estelle joined the BBC first as a trainee science radio producer for the World Service and then moved to Bristol to work for the Natural History Unit in 2015. Since then, she has worked across various wildlife behaviour and conservation titles such as Tribes, Predators and Me; Endangered; and Planet Earth III. During her career, she has tracked the illegal songbird trade through Indonesia, flown with migrating ibis over the Alps, walked among African elephants and filmed sea-faring snakes.

Q&A with Nick Easton, Coasts Producer and Director

A storm batters a colony of nesting Caribbean flamingos on the coast of Mexico.
A storm batters a colony of nesting Caribbean flamingos on the coast of Mexico. (Image: BBC Studios)

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.

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 breathtaking 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.

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