Life on the Reef

This blue-chip nature series takes you below the Great Barrier Reef to a world of wonderment and drama.


Sunday nights on ABC are known for their handsome productions, intelligent storytelling and, in the case of documentaries, sometimes even armchair travel.

Thanks largely to BBC documentaries, notably those featuring David Attenborough, the audience knows there is a minimum standard that comes with the early evening timeslot. More recently Australian-produced documentaries have also put the money on screen.

The latest is Life on the Reef, a blue-chip nature series from Northern Pictures, the team behind Kakadu.

This three part series brings to life this most diverse, colourful living organism. With its azure blue ocean, rainbow-coloured fish, inviting beaches and deadly killers, the Great Barrier Reef is a ready-made television backdrop.

This series, narrated by Rupert Reid, doesn’t just focus on the wildlife. It personalises the communities on the edge of the reef: indigenous families still following hunting methods handed down from generations, as well as divers and scientists.

Episode 1 profiles the curious cuttlefish, sea turtles, birdlife, whales and sharks. There are fish brimming in character, and timeless turtles that trudge against all odds.

Scenes of divers swimming cageless amongst schools of sharks are nerve-wracking stuff.

“Sometimes they come over to have a sticky beak,” says Irish-born dive instructor Paddy Caldwell.

“And sure I do look to see if they are going to drop their pectoral fins and their head’s going to wobble. But they don’t, generally.”

Generally? Yikes…

Deftly balancing both information and entertainment, there is a sense of wonderment and discovery in protecting this most pristine and fragile wilderness.

There is also a rescue sequence when a boat catches fire near the Daintree -with survivors to save and shipwrecks that risk damaging the eco-system. This portion of the show veers closer to a crowded observational genre and feels a little out of place in a predominantly-nature series. But it’s a minor quibble.

Combining time-lapse, underwater and aerial photography, complemented by music that underwrites the natural drama, Life on the Reef whisks you away to the tropics without ever having to leave your couch.

7:40pm Sundays on ABC.

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