Sir David Attenborough has opened up about the “most depressing thing” he has ever seen during his 70-year career.
In a recent interview Sir David, 97, recalled the moment he visited Raine Island over 60 years ago – and despite the tragedy he’s seen throughout his career, there’s one moment that haunts him the most.
In the mid-60s, the wildlife presenter made the trip to the island – situated on the outer edges of the Great Barrier Reef off north-eastern Australia – to witness the breeding season of sea birds in the area.
“We eventually found a chap at the pub who had a boat,” he recalled. “And I asked if he’d go to Raine Island, and he said, ‘Never been!’ So I asked, ‘Could we go up?’ And he said, ‘Yes, why not? Why are you wanting to go?’
“I said, ‘Because it’s breeding season… the seabirds.’ So it took him 10 days or something to get up there – it was a long way. And there were these wonderful birds.”
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However, after making it to the island, Sir David’s search for birds saw him stumble across an island that was “absolutely littered with corpses of turtles” – a sight that’s left an imprint on his memory to this day.
“But the thing that made a huge impression on me wasn’t just the marvellous seabirds breeding, but there were dead turtles all over the place,” he added.
“And the reason that there were dead turtles was that the convicts who had built a watchtower dug stones from the middle of the island.
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“So the island was saucer-shaped, and turtles were coming up and having laid their eggs, and going downhill back to the sea, except that it was actually the middle of the island!”
Labelling the moment as one of the saddest things he’s ever seen in his career, he continued: “So the place was absolutely littered with corpses of turtles, it was the most depressing thing that I’d ever seen.
“That was 60 years ago, and now a new crew has been there. It’s still quite a difficult place to get to because it’s so remote, and I was fascinated to see it all again.
“But this crew went at a better time, which was the breeding time for turtles, and they saw that turtles were alive rather than finding the corpses of the unfortunate ones that were lost.”
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On Sunday, Planet Earth III returns to screens in which Sir David has remained at the helm of, having first fronted the original in 2006 and its sequel a decade later.
Planet Earth III will span eight episodes and has been nearly five years in the making after it was commissioned in 2019 and then delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Planet Earth III will begin on BBC One and iPlayer on Sunday.
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