Ten years ago, Planet Earth became one of the most-watched, most loved, natural history series the world had ever seen, reaching a global audience of over half a billion people. Ten years on, and this rich subject has been revisited with a new perspective. Planet Earth II takes a more intimate approach, immersing audiences in the most spectacular landscapes and habitats on the planet - bringing them eye-to-eye with the animals that live there.
Finding new stories is one of the biggest challenges for any landmark series, and for Planet Earth II that meant pushing the boundaries and going to places that hadn’t been covered on television before. Once such place was the island of Zavodovski, one of the South Sandwich Islands, part of the UK Overseas Territory of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands situated in the South Atlantic. Few humans have ever set foot on the island, let alone attempted comprehensively documenting the daily lives of the 1.5 million or so penguins that breed here.
The reason so few people have visited is partly logistical – Zavodovski lies 1,300 miles (2,200 km) East of the Falklands (around 36 hours sail away from South Georgia), making it exceptionally remote. It is an active volcano and its coastline is dominated by 10m (33 ft) cliffs that are battered by waves that can reach 15m (50ft) and more. It is a difficult place to land in all but the most benign of conditions.
It took 18 months of planning for the Planet Earth II team to put together the expedition to visit, working with the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands to ensure the trip was carried out with minimal impact and maximal safety for all concerned. The skipper for the voyage was Jérôme Poncet of the yacht Golden Fleece, who had visited the island 6 times previously, landing (among others) the photographer Sebastião Salgado on the island as part of his series, Genesis.
The Planet Earth II expedition was carried out in January 2015 with a team of 8 (5 film crew and 3 yacht staff) voyaging 7 days by motor sail to reach the island. The seas were good on arrival, and they were able to land on the island via cliffs at the south east, unloading around 1 tonne of filming equipment, camping gear, water and fuel with which to be self-sufficient. The aim was for the Golden Fleece to anchor nearby, as the support vessel, but big seas meant it had to move at regular intervals and daily resupply to the island was not guaranteed or even possible. In total the team spent 14 days living and filming on the island – although the passing depressions of snow and rain meant only 6 of those had weather conditions that were suitable for operating camera kit.
The resulting footage - made using long lens, gyro-stabilised hand-held cameras and a small drone – is the first filming of the largest colony and the first full portrait of the daily lives of these penguins, as they do battle with spectacular, and often deadly, waves in their mission to feed and raise their chicks.
Planet Earth II launches in the UK and then globally in November 2016. Fronted by Sir David Attenborough (who himself visited Zavodovski on HMS Endurance some years ago), Planet Earth II aims to thrill and inspire audiences the world over.
The story of the penguins of Zavodovski Island appears in the first episode, ‘Islands’, and the behind the scenes story of the challenges of filming in such a remote location features as the ‘Diary’ story for this episode.
Text by Dr Elizabeth White, BBC Natural History Unit
Producer ‘Islands’, Planet Earth II
70p (Macaroni penguins) Although Zavodovski is best known as the largest chinstrap penguin colony in the world, several hundred thousand macaroni penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus) also breed on the island.
80p (Chinstrap penguins) Zavodovski Island is home to the largest penguin colony in the world – predominantly chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica) of which there are estimated to be around 750,000 breeding pairs, plus adolescent non-breeders and chicks.
£1.05 (Chinstrap penguin chicks) Towards the end of January, the chicks are growing so quickly that both parents have to go to sea to feed. They leave the chicks in crèches, beginning as small groups of birds and increasing until they are huddles of ten or twenty individuals and more.
£1.25 (volcano) On the west side of Zavodovksi Island is the volcanic cone of Mount Curry which daily spews out volcanic clouds. The plateau to the east of it - where the largest aggregation of penguins is found - is known as Asphyxia Plain, and there are other sub-colonies at Stench Point and in the northwest of the Island.
First Day cover image: Zavodovski Island viewed from the northwest, with the crater of Mount Curry in the centre, with fumaroles emanating from the coast on the right side of the image.
Layout: Bee Design
Photography: © Elizabeth White / BBC Natural History Unit
Printer: Cartor Security Printing
Process: Stochastic Lithography
Perforation: 13½ x 13¼ per 2cms
Stamp size: 28 x 45mm
Sheet Layout: 10
Release date: 28 November, 2016
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd