Sex on the Reef

Project: Broadcast TV | Client: National Geographic / TVNZ | Year: 1993

My first broadcast film. Back then I just didn't know what couldn't, or shouldn't, be attempted. Janine Hedley of  Television New Zealand's Natural History Unit was my long suffering co-writer / producer. I remain in her debt.  DOP - David Hannan, composer Neville Copeland, animation Taylor Made Productions. Scientific consultant Dr Russell Babcock.

Death of the Tethys

This sequence from the Sex on the Reef  is the story of a dying ocean. Before 3D animation packages were off-the-shelf (e.g. Maya and 3D Max), this kind of visualisation was coded by hand. Indeed in 1992 it was coded by many hands over several months and rendered painfully and lovingly on Silicon Graphics machines. It’s a little clunky by today’s standards but it was several years before Jurassic Park and 15 years before Hopping Hotspots!

The sequence (one of two in the film - the other being an animation of atoll formation) visually amplifies the importance of larval dispersal to marine organisms. Over geological time earth history presents marine life with a simple choice - disperse or become extinct. In this case sexual reproduction and larval dispersal provide a remarkable solution to the problem of immobility for sessile marine organisms like corals.

Larval dispersal is the lifeboat strategy of marine life. This clip illustrates why the spawning behaviours shown in the film are so important. It is not just predators that life needs to escape from, but also geological change in the form of climate change and plate tectonics. There is profound beauty in the way seemingly “delicate” coral is able to hang tough amid the shunting continents of earth history. Life is built for the big picture and as this film was about the sexual reproduction strategies found on reefs it seemed remiss not to frame the importance of "coral spawning" in this way.