[Coral-List] Major new TV series on coral reefs - advice

John Ruthven John at hiddenpictures.co.uk
Tue Nov 24 06:33:00 EST 2009

Dear Coral List members,

I was so amazed by the response to my "Sea Angels" thread, I was wondering
if I could be cheeky enough to pick your brains another project about corals
and Australia's Great Barrier Reef in particular, that is to do with a
series that has been funded. I am probably going to be interviewed for the
producer's role on this next week.

As ever the challenge in making good wildlife shows is to be able to
accurately portray scientific advancements while keeping the interest of a
general audience in a popular way. Modern natural history shows also try to
explore the boundaries of technical achievement in photography and
scientific imaging techniques as well as new insights into behaviour. This
is perhaps simply because we are all interested in the "new".

Specifically I am interested in some of the following issues, and of course
I don't expect comprehensive replies!

1. Coral reef systems have been likened to "a city" in popular terms, where
the coral communities and associated organisms are like citizens of a great
and diverse metropolis - in what way do you agree with this idea and in what
way is it an inaccurate representation?

2. What sort of imaging techniques could be applied to the study of corals?

A) Has anyone used multi-beam or side-scan sonar to map a whole coral reef
in 3D. I have used these techniques on ship wrecks and the detail and
resolution, together with the over-all understanding of the orientation and
levels of depth in the wrecks is fantastic with today's equipment.

B) We have already started to use time-lapse imagery underwater e.g. on
anemone and urchins, and, to some degree on competition boundaries between
coral species - what other subjects would benefit from looking at them in
speeded up timeframes?  The motion should ideally be slow and continuous
(think clouds not bush crickets!)

C) Sometimes we do macro and micro photography in aquaria because of the
difficulties of in-situ filming at these magnifications. However I think
this is pretty artificial and would love to know of any stable underwater
tripod systems etc. that could handle keeping the camera steady, even in
mild currents.

D) Have any endoscope camera systems been used to examine cavities within
the corals?

E) Has anyone used photo-multipler (Gen 3 and Gen 4 ) night-time imagining
technology underwater (as opposed to infra-red that I think some animals
might react to, and which does not penetrate sufficiently in any case in
seawater). What sorts of applications might this have for the study of new
behaviours on the reef at night?

F) I have seen the UV reflection of many species of coral and would be
interested to understand this further, or indeed other spectral ranges.

3. Coral reef behaviours previously unknown

I know there are lots of behaviours waiting to be uncovered
e.g. communal clown fish seem to have a dominant pair and there seems to be
a range of vocalisations (clicking sounds etc.) that happen when a diver

Another example would be courtship in the mantis shrimp with its amazing
eye-sight (apparently able to see many more nuances of colour than

Many thanks. Really what is most important is that I understand the modern
thinking on how a reef functions. Vital issues of  warming and acidification
would I expect be covered in an additional show, but this project is really
to showcase the wonder of the coral to the world.

Best regards

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