Islands Planet Earth II


Islands

Wildlife documentary series presented by David Attenborough, beginning with a look at the remote islands which offer sanctuary to some of the planet's rarest creatures.


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Transcript


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Looking down from two miles above the surface of the Earth

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it's impossible not to be impressed

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by the sheer grandeur and splendour

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and power of the natural world.

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Ten years ago, in a television series called Planet Earth,

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we revealed many of those wonders, but today, much has changed.

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

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Bring you closer to animals than ever before.

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And reveal new wildlife dramas for the very first time.

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But that's not all.

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Our planet has changed too.

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Never have those wildernesses been as fragile and as precious

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as they are today.

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At this crucial time for the natural world,

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we will journey to every corner of the globe...

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..to explore the greatest treasures of our living planet...

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..and reveal the extreme lengths animals go to

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to survive.

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Finally, we will explore our cities

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to see how life is adapting

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to the newest habitat on Earth.

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This is Planet Earth II.

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There are hundreds of thousands of islands,

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each one a world in miniature,

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a microcosm of our living planet.

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The struggles to survive on these remote lands

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reflect the challenges faced by all life on Earth.

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The tiny island of Escudo off the coast of Panama.

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Home to the pygmy three-toed sloth.

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This is a male and life here suits him well.

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Mangroves provide all the leaves he can eat

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and there are no predators to worry him.

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

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There are only a few hundred pygmy sloths in existence.

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And he needs a mate.

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SCREECHING

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That's an enticing call...

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..from a female.

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Somewhere out there.

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

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FEMALE SCREECHES AGAIN

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

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So what should any red-blooded sloth do?

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Swim, of course.

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Could this be her?

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

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But she's not the one.

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She already has a baby and she won't mate again until it leaves her

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in about six months' time.

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Even life on a paradise island can have its limitations.

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MORE SCREECHING

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But at least she can't be far away.

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The world's entire population of pygmy sloths is isolated

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on a speck of land no bigger than New York's Central Park.

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The size of an island has a huge influence on the fate

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of those cast away there.

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The island of Komodo in Indonesia.

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Home to dragons.

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Ten feet long and weighing an impressive 150 lbs,

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these are the largest living lizards on the planet.

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It's unusual to find large predators on islands.

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

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It might seem there wouldn't be enough food

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to support such giants on this relatively small island.

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But reptiles, being cold-blooded,

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need only about a tenth of the food a carnivorous mammal would.

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A single meal will last a dragon a month.

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There are so successful that their only serious competition comes from

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others of their own kind.

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And there are some 2,000 of them here.

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

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Female dragons come into season only once a year.

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She's receptive.

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So far, so good.

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

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Another huge male thinks he is the king here.

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Space being limited on islands,

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dragon territories overlap and that creates continual conflict.

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In dragon society, size is everything.

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

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Muscular tails strike with the power of sledgehammers.

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And their serrated teeth are as sharp as steak knives.

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Each tries to topple his opponent.

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Defeated.

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Only the most powerful dragons

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win the right to mate.

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The limited food and space on small islands

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can often lead to intense competition.

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But some islands are immense.

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More like miniature continents.

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And these provide opportunities for life to experiment and evolve.

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Madagascar is one of the biggest islands and also one of the oldest,

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having split away from Africa over 120 million years ago.

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With time and isolation,

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its animals have adapted to take advantage of every available niche.

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The island now has some 250,000 different species,

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most found nowhere else on Earth.

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These are not monkeys, but lemurs.

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

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

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The much smaller ringtails wander in troops across the forest floor

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searching for food.

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And tiny bamboo lemurs eat nothing except bamboo.

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With few competitors, lemurs have been free to colonise

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almost every environment on the island.

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Even the most extreme.

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This baby sifaka has a hard life ahead of it.

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He's been born in the most arid and hostile corner

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of Madagascar's vast landscape.

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

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The spiny forest is like a desert.

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

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Moving from tree to tree is a perilous business.

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

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His mother searches the tree tops for the youngest leaves.

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

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

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

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

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If he can master the strange ways of this forest...

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..he will have a little corner of Madagascar to himself.

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Island life encourages animals to do things differently.

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And on some islands that is essential.

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There are islands still forming today...

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..built by volcanoes.

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Some erupt explosively.

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Others pour out rivers of molten rock.

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Lava.

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In the last 50 years,

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ten new volcanic islands have been formed.

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

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

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

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

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

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And the frontier between these two very different worlds is the home of

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one of the strangest of reptiles.

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Seagoing iguanas.

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They are vegetarians,

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but since there's little food for them on the land,

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marine iguanas graze on the sea floor.

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A big male like this one can dive to 30 metres

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and hold his breath for half an hour.

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

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And by bringing nutrients from the sea to the land,

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the iguanas help other animals to survive here, too.

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Crabs feed on dead skin on the iguana's back

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and, in turn, provide a welcome exfoliation service.

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

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

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Marine iguanas lay their eggs in sand.

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

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

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But the journey will be a dangerous one.

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Racer snakes.

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The snakes miss their chance.

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But more babies are hatching.

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And now the snakes are on the alert.

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

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

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But others are waiting in ambush.

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Another hatchling has its first glimpse of a dangerous world.

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A snake's eyes aren't very good,

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but they can detect movement.

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

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A near miraculous escape.

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The lucky survivors can begin learning the unique way of life

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demanded by this hostile island.

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Although marine iguanas are expert swimmers,

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they can't cross open oceans.

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But even the stormiest waters are no barrier for birds.

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Gale force winds and cold temperatures make the sub-Antarctic

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islands off New Zealand particularly unwelcoming in winter.

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

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It's now that visitors arrive.

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All here to breed before winter returns.

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There's the Snares penguins.

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Shearwaters come, too.

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This is an excellent place for them to dig their nesting burrows,

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for no predators have managed to get here.

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Soon the island is crowded with birds.

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

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But not everyone has a partner.

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A male Buller's albatross waits for his mate.

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

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They reunite here to breed.

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But this year, she's late.

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No, that's not her.

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The other birds come and go.

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The clock is ticking.

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If she doesn't appear soon,

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it could be too late for them to breed successfully.

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

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Everybody else seems to be getting on with it.

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The shearwaters' return marks another lost day.

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

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Could this be her?

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At last.

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At first, he's a little coy.

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But not for long.

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They greet each other with the special dance

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they've perfected over many years.

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

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

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

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The Seychelles, lying off the coast of East Africa,

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provide a sanctuary for sea birds all the year round.

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Fairy terns are permanent residents.

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

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A bare branch is quite enough.

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

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Once a year, the noddies arrive.

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They do make nests,

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and pisonia trees provide their young

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with a rather less precarious start in life.

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Nesting on this island looks idyllic.

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

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The Seychelles fody makes quick work of an unattended egg.

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She knows something's not quite right,

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but her drive to incubate is strong.

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The noddies too have a problem.

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As their chicks grow,

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so the pisonia trees develop seeds that are sticky

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and equipped with hooks.

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By the time the young noddies leave,

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they carry these hitchhiking seeds away to other islands.

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But sometimes the pisonia trees are too successful.

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If a fledgling, testing out its wings, drops to the ground,

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it can get covered with the seeds.

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Entangled and weighed down, if it can't free itself,

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the youngster will starve.

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The pisonia may have failed to disperse these seeds...

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..but it will soon have fertiliser for its roots.

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

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The fairy tern laid another egg,

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and now she has a tiny chick to feed.

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This chick is lucky.

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By the time it fledges, the pisonia seeds will have dispersed,

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and the danger they brought will be gone.

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Even the most idyllic-looking of islands presents challenges

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for the animals living there.

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But the greatest threat they face is change.

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Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

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For millions of years,

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this remote speck of land has been ruled by crabs.

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Their ancestors came from the sea,

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but most have now adopted a land-based existence.

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

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

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Once a year, they must all return to the sea to breed,

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and the march of the red crabs

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is one of the greatest natural spectacles on earth.

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There are 50 million of them.

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

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But in recent years,

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millions of red crabs haven't managed to reach the sea.

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An invader has occupied this island.

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Yellow crazy ants.

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They escaped from visiting ships and with no predators to control them,

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they have now created vast super colonies in the forest.

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When migrating red crabs march into their territory, the ants attack.

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Squirting acid into the crabs' eyes and mouths.

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The crabs have no defence.

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Blinded and confused...

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..they're doomed.

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Humans brought these ant invaders here,

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and now humans are having to control them.

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

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

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Of all the species that have become extinct in recent years,

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around 80% have been islanders.

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

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Yet some islands are so remote

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that few humans have even set foot on them.

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Zavodovski Island is one.

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It lies in the great Southern Ocean.

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It's not only surrounded by the stormiest of seas,

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it is itself an active volcano.

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

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Unless you're a chinstrap penguin.

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There is plenty of food in these waters, but to exploit it,

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the penguins have to risk their lives.

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Life here is dangerous in the extreme.

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PENGUINS CHATTER

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But there are some benefits from living on a volcano.

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Its warmth melts the snow early in the year.

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And, by January, the Antarctic's mid-summer,

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the island is covered in chicks.

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Parents take turns at guarding them

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until they're large enough to be left alone.

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

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

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But some don't make it.

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Skuas harass the colony, hoping to snatch a chick.

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She can't risk leaving them.

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

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

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For him, however, and for all the other parents here,

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the worst of the journey is still to come.

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

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For these commuters, it's rush hour.

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Some have had a really bad day.

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The father now has a two-mile walk to the nest,

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and a stomach loaded with food doesn't help.

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This is the largest penguin colony in the world.

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But as he makes the same journey every other day,

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he should be able to do it with his eyes closed.

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It's true that there can be safety in numbers,

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but numbers can also be something of a problem

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when you're trying to find your own nest.

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The mother is still waiting.

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Her chicks are now desperate.

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THEY CHEEP

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In the midst of all this deafening chorus,

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he can recognise her particular cry.

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At last.

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Both chicks will get a meal.

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

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It's her turn to do the feeding run.

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

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A strange vision of paradise to us, perhaps,

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but, for one and a half million penguins, this island has it all.

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Islands may seem remote and insignificant,

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but they are home to some of the most precious wildlife on Earth.

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The expedition to film on the island of Zavodovski

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was the most intrepid shoot of the series.

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To ensure its success, the team have called in

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Antarctic expert Jerome Poncet,

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one of the few people to have set foot on the island.

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This whole region of Antarctica is rarely visited.

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And this is the planet's roughest ocean.

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After seven long days and nights at sea,

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they get their first glimpse of the final destination.

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It's actually quite surreal after a whole year,

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trying to put the expedition together.

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

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That's Zavodovski.

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The explorers who discovered this place

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spoke of the stench of sulphurous gases,

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treacherous waters,

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and astonishing numbers of penguins.

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It seems not much has changed.

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Jerome's been round the whole place,

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and there literally is only one safe area to get on,

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and he's telling us

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it's that rock face over there.

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The team must take everything they need to survive.

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There are the penguins!

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Though the boat'll stay nearby,

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they will need to be self-sufficient.

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

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Just get to that lot to help.

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Many flippers make light work.

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They work all day getting the gear ashore.

0:51:490:51:51

But the fact there are so many penguins on the island

0:51:540:51:58

doesn't make it easy.

0:51:580:51:59

The hardest thing for us has been finding a pathway through,

0:52:000:52:03

because there's absolutely penguins everywhere you look.

0:52:030:52:06

Finally, it's time to make camp.

0:52:130:52:16

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

0:52:210:52:24

But since most of the penguins won't have seen a human being before,

0:52:260:52:30

they seem keen to pop over and visit.

0:52:300:52:32

-Hello.

-Nosy neighbours.

0:52:330:52:36

The team set off

0:52:380:52:39

to start documenting the daily lives of the penguins,

0:52:390:52:42

and what they find is astonishing.

0:52:420:52:45

As soon as you walk over that ridge, you sort of get a tingly feeling,

0:52:460:52:49

because I've never seen that many animals in one spot.

0:52:490:52:54

It's mind-blowing.

0:52:540:52:55

It's like Glastonbury Festival.

0:52:570:53:00

The whole landscape

0:53:000:53:01

is full of little black and white penguins waddling around.

0:53:010:53:05

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

0:53:090:53:12

A promising start.

0:53:170:53:18

But here, fortunes can change quickly.

0:53:200:53:23

# Summertime... #

0:53:270:53:29

Every season within ten minutes.

0:53:320:53:35

As the snow melts, it creates an unforeseen problem.

0:53:380:53:42

We purposely chose this campsite

0:53:440:53:46

because it was a place where the penguins didn't seem to go.

0:53:460:53:49

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

0:53:490:53:52

It's because of the spray and because of some run-off,

0:53:520:53:55

so we are literally in a bit of a bog.

0:53:550:53:58

And it's not just mud.

0:53:590:54:01

A couple of these guys, as they wander down to do a spot of fishing,

0:54:030:54:07

they tend to use my tent as a little poop spot.

0:54:070:54:11

You kind of get used to it at night,

0:54:110:54:13

just hearing a constant splat on top of the tent.

0:54:130:54:16

But, as you can see, all of the kit,

0:54:160:54:20

I'm afraid that's getting splat on as well.

0:54:200:54:23

And, when the wind changes, it brings a noxious reminder

0:54:230:54:27

that they're camping on an active volcano.

0:54:270:54:30

It's the first time we've smelt sulphur,

0:54:320:54:35

which is welcome relief from smelling penguins.

0:54:350:54:38

It's smoking away.

0:54:380:54:39

I think if they start running for the sea,

0:54:410:54:44

we're going to be calling Jerome pretty quick for the boat.

0:54:440:54:47

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

0:54:490:54:54

Next, a huge storm hits the island.

0:54:580:55:01

Only now do the team realise

0:55:040:55:06

just how tough life can be for the penguins.

0:55:060:55:09

It's hard not to be moved by the effort they go to

0:55:130:55:16

to feed their chicks.

0:55:160:55:18

These huge waves are coming in.

0:55:200:55:22

The penguins are surfing here,

0:55:220:55:24

getting battered on these big boulders.

0:55:240:55:26

Now and then you just get a penguin that gets catapulted

0:55:260:55:29

15 metres in the air - it's totally ludicrous.

0:55:290:55:32

And really, I think there are quite a few penguins getting killed in it.

0:55:340:55:38

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

0:55:430:55:48

It was absolute carnage.

0:55:500:55:51

It was heartbreaking.

0:55:540:55:55

I mean, they're trying so hard to get up the beach with broken legs

0:55:550:55:58

and bleeding and very, you know, sobering, really.

0:55:580:56:02

After witnessing the struggles, the penguins must endure,

0:56:060:56:10

the team now face the same problem.

0:56:100:56:12

Getting off the island.

0:56:130:56:14

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

0:56:160:56:20

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

0:56:220:56:26

Or the Zodiac could tip...

0:56:270:56:28

..leaving them all stranded.

0:56:300:56:31

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

0:56:320:56:35

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

0:56:400:56:44

And the swell is getting bigger.

0:56:440:56:46

Their window of opportunity is closing.

0:56:480:56:50

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

0:56:520:56:54

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

0:57:000:57:04

She's just leaving us now, is she?

0:57:090:57:11

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

0:57:110:57:14

-They're gone.

-Yeah.

0:57:160:57:17

Luckily it didn't come to that.

0:57:190:57:21

Safely aboard, they leave with an unforgettable experience

0:57:250:57:31

of how hard life is on an island at the edge of the world.

0:57:310:57:35

Next time, we ascend into the planet's highest peaks

0:57:400:57:45

to discover a spectacular but hostile world,

0:57:450:57:48

where only the toughest animals can endure.

0:57:480:57:51

This is life on the roof of the world.

0:57:540:57:57

Mountains.

0:57:570:57:58

Remote islands offer sanctuary for some of the planet's strangest and rarest creatures. The rare pygmy three-toed sloth enjoys a peaceful existence on an idyllic Caribbean island, while nesting albatross thrive in predator-free isolation.

But island life always comes at a cost. On the Galapagos Islands, young marine iguana must escape an onslaught of deadly racer snakes the moment they hatch from the sand. On the sub-Antarctic island of Zavodovski, life gets more extreme still. Every day, one and a half million penguins risk being battered against the rocks by fierce waves as they try to get on and off the island.