01x01 - Islands

Episode transcripts for the TV show "Planet Earth II". Aired: November 2016 to December 2016.*
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"Planet Earth II" is a nature documentary presented and narrated Sir David Attenborough.
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01x01 - Islands

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Looking down from two miles above the surface of the Earth it's impossible not to be impressed by the sheer grandeur and splendour and power of the natural world.

Ten years ago, in a television series called Planet Earth, we revealed many of those wonders, but today, much has changed.

We can now show life on our planet in entirely new ways.

Bring you closer to animals than ever before.

And reveal new wildlife dramas for the very first time.

But that's not all.

Our planet has changed too.

Never have those wildernesses been as fragile and as precious as they are today.

At this crucial time for the natural world, we will journey to every corner of the globe... to explore the greatest treasures of our living planet... and reveal the extreme lengths animals go to to survive.

Finally, we will explore our cities to see how life is adapting to the newest habitat on Earth.

This is Planet Earth II.

There are hundreds of thousands of islands, each one a world in miniature, a microcosm of our living planet.

The struggles to survive on these remote lands reflect the challenges faced by all life on Earth.

The tiny island of Escudo off the coast of Panama.

Home to the pygmy three-toed sloth.

This is a male and life here suits him well.

Mangroves provide all the leaves he can eat and there are no predators to worry him.

Island life may seem idyllic but it comes at a price.

There are only a few hundred pygmy sloths in existence.

And he needs a mate.


That's an enticing call... from a female.

Somewhere out there.

And this, for a sloth, is a quick reaction.


The problem is, there's deep water between them.

So what should any red-blooded sloth do?

Swim, of course.

Could this be her?

He does his best to put on a turn of speed.

But she's not the one.

She already has a baby and she won't mate again until it leaves her in about six months' time.

Even life on a paradise island can have its limitations.


But at least she can't be far away.

The world's entire population of pygmy sloths is isolated on a speck of land no bigger than New York's Central Park.

The size of an island has a huge influence on the fate of those cast away there.

The island of Komodo in Indonesia.

Home to dragons.

Ten feet long and weighing an impressive 150 lbs, these are the largest living lizards on the planet.

It's unusual to find large predators on islands.

Yet, for four million years, the Komodo dragon has dominated here.

It might seem there wouldn't be enough food to support such giants on this relatively small island.

But reptiles, being cold-blooded, need only about a tenth of the food a carnivorous mammal would.

A single meal will last a dragon a month.

There are so successful that their only serious competition comes from others of their own kind.

And there are some 2,000 of them here.

This giant, however, isn't looking for food... he's looking for a mate.

Female dragons come into season only once a year.

She's receptive.

So far, so good.

But he's strayed into someone else's patch.

Another huge male thinks he is the king here.

Space being limited on islands, dragon territories overlap and that creates continual conflict.

In dragon society, size is everything.

But if rivals are closely matched, the outcome can be uncertain.

Muscular tails strike with the power of sledgehammers.

And their serrated teeth are as sharp as steak knives.

Each tries to topple his opponent.


Only the most powerful dragons win the right to mate.

The limited food and space on small islands can often lead to intense competition.

But some islands are immense.

More like miniature continents.

And these provide opportunities for life to experiment and evolve.

Madagascar is one of the biggest islands and also one of the oldest, having split away from Africa over 120 million years ago.

With time and isolation, its animals have adapted to take advantage of every available niche.

The island now has some 250,000 different species, most found nowhere else on Earth.

These are not monkeys, but lemurs.

From a single ancestor, about 100 different types have evolved.

The largest, the indri, seldom comes down from the branches.

The much smaller ringtails wander in troops across the forest floor searching for food.

And tiny bamboo lemurs eat nothing except bamboo.

With few competitors, lemurs have been free to colonise almost every environment on the island.

Even the most extreme.

This baby sifaka has a hard life ahead of it.

He's been born in the most arid and hostile corner of Madagascar's vast landscape.

If he is to survive here, he has much to learn.

The spiny forest is like a desert.

It rarely rains, so water and food is very hard to find.

Moving from tree to tree is a perilous business.

Here, nearly all the plants are covered with ferocious spines.

His mother searches the tree tops for the youngest leaves.

They provide the only food and water to sustain the family.

At three months old, the youngster is starting to explore.

All too soon he will have to fend for himself up here.

But it's altogether easier to stay on mother's back.

If he can master the strange ways of this forest... he will have a little corner of Madagascar to himself.

Island life encourages animals to do things differently.

And on some islands that is essential.

There are islands still forming today... built by volcanoes.

Some erupt explosively.

Others pour out rivers of molten rock.


In the last 50 years, ten new volcanic islands have been formed.

Newly created and often remote, they're hard for colonists to reach.

Even those that do find these are tough places to survive.

This is Fernandina, one of the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific.

Young and still volcanically active, it's a desolate place.

The surrounding sea, however, is particularly rich with life.

And the frontier between these two very different worlds is the home of one of the strangest of reptiles.

Seagoing iguanas.

They are vegetarians, but since there's little food for them on the land, marine iguanas graze on the sea floor.

A big male like this one can dive to 30 metres and hold his breath for half an hour.

There are more than 7,000 individuals on Fernandina alone.

And by bringing nutrients from the sea to the land, the iguanas help other animals to survive here, too.

Crabs feed on d*ad skin on the iguana's back and, in turn, provide a welcome exfoliation service.

While smaller lizards prey on the flies that pester the colony.

But not all the relationships on this island are so harmonious.

Marine iguanas lay their eggs in sand.

In June, when the hatchlings emerge, they are vulnerable.

They must join the adults at the edge of the sea.

But the journey will be a dangerous one.

Racer snakes.

The snakes miss their chance.

But more babies are hatching.

And now the snakes are on the alert.

This is the best feeding opportunity they will get all year.

On flat ground, a baby iguana can outrun a racer snake.

But others are waiting in ambush.

Another hatchling has its first glimpse of a dangerous world.

A snake's eyes aren't very good, but they can detect movement.

So if the hatchling keeps its nerve, it may just avoid detection.

A near miraculous escape.

The lucky survivors can begin learning the unique way of life demanded by this hostile island.

Although marine iguanas are expert swimmers, they can't cross open oceans.

But even the stormiest waters are no barrier for birds.

Gale force winds and cold temperatures make the sub-Antarctic islands off New Zealand particularly unwelcoming in winter.

But, when the brief summer comes, temperatures rise and winds slacken.

It's now that visitors arrive.

All here to breed before winter returns.

There's the Snares penguins.

Shearwaters come, too.

This is an excellent place for them to dig their nesting burrows, for no predators have managed to get here.

Soon the island is crowded with birds.

Every one of them eager to make the most of the short breeding season.

But not everyone has a partner.

A male Buller's albatross waits for his mate.

Each year they spend six months apart, travelling the ocean.

They reunite here to breed.

But this year, she's late.

No, that's not her.

The other birds come and go.

The clock is ticking.

If she doesn't appear soon, it could be too late for them to breed successfully.

Every morning the shearwaters fly off to collect food for their young.

Everybody else seems to be getting on with it.

The shearwaters' return marks another lost day.

There are three million birds on the island, but only one matters to him.

Could this be her?
At last.

At first, he's a little coy.

But not for long.

They greet each other with the special dance they've perfected over many years.

There is much to do if they're to raise a chick before winter returns.

But when you have been apart for six months, some things can't be rushed.

Islands in warm tropical waters don't experience seasonal extremes.

The Seychelles, lying off the coast of East Africa, provide a sanctuary for sea birds all the year round.

Fairy terns are permanent residents.

They take a fairly relaxed view about what constitutes a nest.

A bare branch is quite enough.

Climbing onto it to incubate has to be done with care.

Once a year, the noddies arrive.

They do make nests, and pisonia trees provide their young with a rather less precarious start in life.

Nesting on this island looks idyllic.

But behind the beauty, there's a sinister side.

The Seychelles fody makes quick work of an unattended egg.

She knows something's not quite right, but her drive to incubate is strong.

The noddies too have a problem.

As their chicks grow, so the pisonia trees develop seeds that are sticky and equipped with hooks.

By the time the young noddies leave, they carry these hitchhiking seeds away to other islands.

But sometimes the pisonia trees are too successful.

If a fledgling, testing out its wings, drops to the ground, it can get covered with the seeds.

Entangled and weighed down, if it can't free itself, the youngster will starve.

The pisonia may have failed to disperse these seeds... but it will soon have fertiliser for its roots.

This is why some people call the pisonia the "bird catcher tree".

The fairy tern laid another egg, and now she has a tiny chick to feed.

This chick is lucky.

By the time it fledges, the pisonia seeds will have dispersed, and the danger they brought will be gone.

Even the most idyllic-looking of islands presents challenges for the animals living there.

But the greatest thr*at they face is change.

Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

For millions of years, this remote speck of land has been ruled by crabs.

Their ancestors came from the sea, but most have now adopted a land-based existence.

Given there are so many of them, they get on relatively harmoniously.

They're the gardeners and caretakers of a tiny crab utopia.

Once a year, they must all return to the sea to breed, and the march of the red crabs is one of the greatest natural spectacles on earth.

There are 50 million of them.

It's an event that has brought the island worldwide fame.

But in recent years, millions of red crabs haven't managed to reach the sea.

An invader has occupied this island.

Yellow crazy ants.

They escaped from visiting ships and with no predators to control them, they have now created vast super colonies in the forest.

When migrating red crabs march into their territory, the ants att*ck.

Squirting acid into the crabs' eyes and mouths.

The crabs have no defence.

Blinded and confused... they're doomed.

Humans brought these ant invaders here, and now humans are having to control them.

Isolated communities may evolve from millions of years in relative peace.

But, when new challenges arrive, they can struggle to cope.

Of all the species that have become extinct in recent years, around 80% have been islanders.

Our impact on the Earth is greater today than ever before.

Yet some islands are so remote that few humans have even set foot on them.

Zavodovski Island is one.

It lies in the great Southern Ocean.

It's not only surrounded by the stormiest of seas, it is itself an active volcano.

It's the last place on Earth you would choose to live.

Unless you're a chinstrap penguin.

There is plenty of food in these waters, but to exploit it, the penguins have to risk their lives.

Life here is dangerous in the extreme.


But there are some benefits from living on a volcano.

Its warmth melts the snow early in the year.

And, by January, the Antarctic's mid-summer, the island is covered in chicks.

Parents take turns at guarding them until they're large enough to be left alone.

This mother's chicks are hungry, but she has no food left to give them.

Their survival depends on their father returning with the next meal.

But some don't make it.

Skuas harass the colony, hoping to snatch a chick.

She can't risk leaving them.

Everything will be fine, as long as their father comes back soon.

He's been fishing 50 miles offshore, but now he's not far away.

For him, however, and for all the other parents here, the worst of the journey is still to come.

Tiny claws help him to get whatever grip he can on the rough lava.

For these commuters, it's rush hour.

Some have had a really bad day.

The father now has a two-mile walk to the nest, and a stomach loaded with food doesn't help.

This is the largest penguin colony in the world.

But as he makes the same journey every other day, he should be able to do it with his eyes closed.

It's true that there can be safety in numbers, but numbers can also be something of a problem when you're trying to find your own nest.

The mother is still waiting.

Her chicks are now desperate.


In the midst of all this deafening chorus, he can recognise her particular cry.

At last.

Both chicks will get a meal.

With a head bob of acknowledgement, their mother now leaves.

It's her turn to do the feeding run.

This formidable commute is the price these penguins pay for sanctuary.

A strange vision of paradise to us, perhaps, but, for one and a half million penguins, this island has it all.

Islands may seem remote and insignificant, but they are home to some of the most precious wildlife on Earth.

The expedition to film on the island of Zavodovski was the most intrepid sh**t of the series.

To ensure its success, the team have called in Antarctic expert Jerome Poncet, one of the few people to have set foot on the island.

This whole region of Antarctica is rarely visited.

And this is the planet's roughest ocean.

After seven long days and nights at sea, they get their first glimpse of the final destination.

It's actually quite surreal after a whole year, trying to put the expedition together.

And then today we wake up, and there's the volcano.

That's Zavodovski.

The explorers who discovered this place spoke of the stench of sulphurous gases, treacherous waters, and astonishing numbers of penguins.

It seems not much has changed.

Jerome's been round the whole place, and there literally is only one safe area to get on, and he's telling us it's that rock face over there.

The team must take everything they need to survive.

There are the penguins!

Though the boat'll stay nearby, they will need to be self-sufficient.

But that means taking a tonne of equipment up this cliff.

Just get to that lot to help.

Many flippers make light work.

They work all day getting the gear ashore.

But the fact there are so many penguins on the island doesn't make it easy.

The hardest thing for us has been finding a pathway through, because there's absolutely penguins everywhere you look.

Finally, it's time to make camp.

They choose a sheltered place that won't disturb the locals.

But since most of the penguins won't have seen a human being before, they seem keen to pop over and visit.

Hello. Nosy neighbours.

The team set off to start documenting the daily lives of the penguins, and what they find is astonishing.

As soon as you walk over that ridge, you sort of get a tingly feeling, because I've never seen that many animals in one spot.

It's mind-bl*wing.

It's like Glastonbury Festival.

The whole landscape is full of little black and white penguins waddling around.

This is penguin paradise, and that's what we're trying to show.

A promising start.

But here, fortunes can change quickly.

♪ Summertime... ♪

Every season within ten minutes.

As the snow melts, it creates an unforeseen problem.

We purposely chose this campsite because it was a place where the penguins didn't seem to go.

I think we've realised why the penguins don't nest here.

It's because of the spray and because of some run-off, so we are literally in a bit of a bog.

And it's not just mud.

A couple of these guys, as they wander down to do a spot of fishing, they tend to use my tent as a little poop spot.

You kind of get used to it at night, just hearing a constant splat on top of the tent.

But, as you can see, all of the kit, I'm afraid that's getting splat on as well.

And, when the wind changes, it brings a noxious reminder that they're camping on an active volcano.

It's the first time we've smelt sulphur, which is welcome relief from smelling penguins.

It's smoking away.

I think if they start running for the sea, we're going to be calling Jerome pretty quick for the boat.

Each day filming on Zavodovski seems to present a new challenge.

Next, a huge storm hits the island.

Only now do the team realise just how tough life can be for the penguins.

It's hard not to be moved by the effort they go to to feed their chicks.

These huge waves are coming in.

The penguins are surfing here, getting battered on these big boulders.

Now and then you just get a penguin that gets catapulted 15 metres in the air... it's totally ludicrous.

And really, I think there are quite a few penguins getting k*lled in it.

The beach in the afternoon was just a scene of death and destruction.

It was absolute carnage.

It was heartbreaking.

I mean, they're trying so hard to get up the beach with broken legs and bleeding and very, you know, sobering, really.

After witnessing the struggles, the penguins must endure, the team now face the same problem.

Getting off the island.

With another storm coming in, they decide to take their chance.

Jerome has seconds to get in and out between the waves.

Or the Zodiac could tip... leaving them all stranded.

Hurray, that's the first box off the island.

What took a day to get ashore must be off in minutes.

And the swell is getting bigger.

Their window of opportunity is closing.

Look at this swell now, watch out, watch out!

The equipment's off, but now the team has to follow.

She's just leaving us now, is she?

That's the producer, she's gone! We have to swim now.

They're gone. Yeah.

Luckily it didn't come to that.

Safely aboard, they leave with an unforgettable experience of how hard life is on an island at the edge of the world.

Next time, we ascend into the planet's highest peaks to discover a spectacular but hostile world, where only the toughest animals can endure.

This is life on the roof of the world.

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