In October 2017, just after wrapping work on Blue Planet II, I traveled to Kakaban in Kalimantan, Indonesia to shoot a sequence for Nutopia productions. The project was Darren Aranofsky’s One Strange Rock for National Geographic Channel.
Part of the Derawan archipelago, Kakaban is an beautiful and otherworldly island. The island itself is akin to a crater and within it is a lake which has been cut off from the ocean since the holocene era by geological pressure. The brackish lake is fringed by sponge-clad mangrove roots which play host to some small species of fish, and a carpet of green algae home to anemones and flatworms. The main highlight is the thousands of stingless jellyfish which drift around the lake. There are four species of jellies in the lake:
- Aureli aurita (Moon Jellyfish),
- Mastigias Papua (Spotted Jellyfish),
- Tripedalia cystophora (Box Jellyfish)
- Cassiopea Ornata (Upside Down Jellyfish)
The spotted jellyfish are the most abundant and form large clouds which you can swim through. It’s a truly surreal experience. There are also anemones rooted to the algae which feed on the unlucky jellyfish that stray into their tentacles.
Our sequence for One Strange Rock involved a local Bajau freediver swimming through the jellies and exploring the lake. Although it was a simple sequence it had some real challenges. The density of the jellyfish aggregations is affected by several factors including wind and sunlight. Finding the right moment to capture the ethereal effect I wanted was a mite frustrating, especially when you factor in the usual issues communicating with a freediver at the surface. I found myself drawn to the edges of the lake often as the light was phenomenal in the mornings, with thin shafts of sunlight penetrating through the canopy and lighting single jellyfish floating through the hanging roots. It’s situations like this where the dynamic range of the 8K Red Epic-W really shines. I could have spent the entire five days filming in the mangroves if there wasn’t a storyboard to get through!
There is nowhere to stay on Pulau Kakaban so our crew stayed in some simple accommodation on the nearby island of Maratua. Logistics were pretty simple and it was a short 20min speedboat ride to the Kakaban jetty every day. The limestone ridge which rings the island made for a nasty little hike with all the gear on the wooden walkway over the hill but once we were in situ it was a very easy place to work from. Drone aerials were done by a local crew from Bali and fixing was by the always reliable Jungle Run productions. Regulations are strict in the lake. SCUBA diving is banned and tourists have to snorkel without the use of fins to avoid slicing up the delicate jellies. It’s great to see this unique ecosystem being cared for. Hit the link for more information on diving in Sangalaki, Derawan and Kakaban
One Strange Rock – home was release on National Geographic Channel on 29th May 2018.