Critical role parrotfish play in coral reef island building shown in stunning new documentary

Critical role parrotfish play in coral reef island building shown in stunning new documentary

The pivotal role that parrotfish play in building and maintaining coral reef islands, unearthed by experts at the University of Exeter, will be explored in a stunning new documentary from National Geographic.

Professor Chris Perry, from Exeter’s Geography department, will feature in the seventh and latest episode of 10-part cinematic event series One Strange Rock, narrated by world-famous actor Will Smith.

The episode, entitled “Terraform” and which airs in the UK on Tuesday, May 8th at 8pm, focuses on how microbes, plants and animals sculpt Earth’s surface and atmosphere in the strangest of ways.

As part of the episode, Professor Perry discusses his research that showed that the Maldives island of Vakkaru gets blanketed with 1.5 million pounds of new sand each year.

Roughly 80 percent of these “island-grade sediments” come directly from parrotfish poop, made by the beaked fish after they chew up coral for food.

Reef islands are unique landforms composed entirely of sediment produced on their surrounding coral reefs. Despite being of vital importance to island development and future maintenance, the sources of the sediment that are most important to island building, and the rates at which this sediment is produced, has remained very poorly examined.  

Speaking in the episode, Professor Perry said that when diving around Vakkaru and other islands, “you can hear this incredible grinding noise—it gives you a sense of life on the reef.”

Speaking ahead of the programme, Professor Perry added: “Coral reef islands are considered to be among the most vulnerable landforms to climate change and especially to future sea-level rise.

“It was wonderful to be able to show the findings of our research, and the critical links between the ecology of the reefs that surround these islands and the need to protect the parrotfish, in such an illustrious series. It provides a fantastic platform to raise awareness of the role these fish play in ensuring a continued supply of the sediment, from which these Maldivian reef islands are built.” 

One Strange Rock sees award-winning filmmaker Darren Aronofsky and award-winning producer Jane Root unearth the extraordinary story of our planet. The 10-part cinematic event series, hosted by Academy Award®-nominated actor Will Smith explores the fragility and wonder of planet Earth, a curiously calibrated speck of a planet in the harsh universe.

The series explores some of the questions many of us take for granted, such as why is Earth the only planet that we know to support life, how fragile are the perfectly tuned systems that sustain this living planet, and what are the greatest threats to the environment and human existence on Earth.

Watch the episode clip here; Parrot fish islands 

Date: 8 May 2018

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