Vamizi: Cradle of Coral

A team of scientists race to save an underwater paradise

Vamizi: Cradle of Coral In the shimmering waters of the Indian Ocean lies the island of Vamizi, home to one of the world's oldest, most pristine coral reefs. Natural reserves of oil and gas have been discovered below this wonderland of marine biodiversity, and now this vibrant, flourishing reef is a target for energy companies. With one-third of the world's coral reefs dying, this urgent doc follows a team of conservationists in a race against time to save Vamizi.

”Vamizi is really an island of hope,” says coral reef specialist David Obura. He is a member of an international team of experts, devoted to saving Vamizi’s precious reefs from the innumerable perils of the modern human-dominated world. Vamizi’s reefs are special: the ”highest diversity area in the whole West Indian Ocean,” according to Obura. They provide an irreplaceable breeding and birthing ground for hundreds of marine species, including grey reef sharks, humpback whales and green sea turtles. The team hopes that learning more about these enigmatic inhabitants will lend further testament to Vamizi’s international importance.

”This place is really important to me,” says scientist Tessa Hempson, who has dived these waters for years and knows them like the back of her hand. For her, one change in particular stands out. ”What I have definitely noticed is a drop in the number of sharks from the time when I first came here to now,” she observes. She has ambitions of tagging sharks to be able to track their movements, informing the creation of Neptune’s Arm, a new marine park. Tagging wary and fast-moving sharks is no easy matter, so to achieve this aim she has recruited champion freediver William Winram and his modified spear gun. He can stay underwater for up to eight minutes without the aid of scuba apparatus, giving him far greater freedom of movement and lowering his chances of spooking the sharks.

Back on the surface, breaching humpback whales prove an unforgettable spectacle. They are the reef’s largest and arguably most charismatic species, and migrate vast distances to give birth in Vamizi’s waters. However, they may also be at risk. ”There is a lot of noise generated from the oil and gas activities,” explains marine biologist Melinda Rekdahl, ”Strandings have been loosely associated at least with potential large sources of noise.” To gain a greater understanding of the effects of this noise pollution on the whales’ health, she uses a crossbow to gather informative skin samples from these leviathans. ”It’s a massive animal – usually up to 15 meters,” she says, conscious of the violent connotations of such a method, ”So I think it’s more of a mosquito bite.”

For the green sea turtles, it is the locals that front conservation efforts. ”They themselves became the biggest protectors of sea turtles,” says marine biologist Joana Trindade, ”They are the ones that love them the most.” The island communities monitor and protect the turtle nests along their beaches, ensuring a strong start in life for the hatchlings.

The threats to Vamizi’s reefs are many. ”We are adding one impact after another – fishing, pollution, climate change,” explains Obura, ”And they don’t have enough time to recover from one before the next one happens.” The team’s dedicated work has undoubtedly strengthened the case for Vamizi’s conservation, and he remains resolute for the future. ”My four-year-old son, he wants to dive and surf and enjoy the sea the way I do. I hope that I can help make it so that it’s as beautiful then as it is now.”

LaurelWaimea Ocean Film Festival – Official Selection
LaurelBlue Ocean Film Festival – Official Selection
LaurelWildlife Conservation Film Festival New York – Official Selection
LaurelSheffield Documentary Festival – Official Selection

The Producers

Mattias Klum was born in Uppsala, Sweden in 1968 and started taking pictures in his teens. He has worked full-time as a freelance photographer since 1986, and as a cinematographer and director on numerous film and television projects since 1994. In an artistic way that is entirely his own, Klum describes and portrays animals, plants, and natural and cultural settings in the form of articles, books, films, lectures and exhibitions. Klum's film credits include Borneo’s Rainforest and The Brittle Thread, a documentary about Asia’s last lions; Searching for the Giant Sea Eagle, a Wild Chronicles segment for National Geographic Channel; and The Linnaeus Expedition together with producer Folke Rydén.

Making The Film

We have used the latest state-of-the-art camera systems like the Canon 5D and the RED Epic to capture the riot of colour and biodiversity and to prove the shadowy crevasses of the reefs in 5K. Whenever possible, we used a wild pov – the fish eagle, the reef shark, the scuttling turtle hatchling – to create an intimate dimension to the storytelling style. Scientists like David Obura from Kenya and Tessa Hempson from James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, know this could spell the end of this thriving ecosystem. So it's up to a small team of scientists to prove that this ancient reef system is a critical habitat and must be protected.

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