The Forgotten Atoll

The fascinating secrets of the South Atlantic Ocean’s only atoll have remained hidden from humankind… until now.

Produced by NHNZ

One hundred and forty miles from the Brazilian shore lies a wild refuge where flocks of birds blacken the skies and fish fill the pristine waters.

Rocas, the only atoll in the South Atlantic Ocean, is more than just a reef and a lagoon. It is several worlds, working together as a living whole. This fragile organism is so untouched that its secrets have remained hidden. Even today, it is not completely mapped.

Since its discovery 500 years ago, Rocas has defended itself from human colonisation and exploitation. Shipwrecks lie piled up offshore. Ruined buildings remind us of the people that have lost their lives at the hand of the atoll. Slowly, people stopped trying to colonise Rocas—they almost stopped going to the atoll altogether.

Today, Rocas is a biological reserve, off-limits to all humans other than rangers and scientists. A crew of Brazilian scientists and filmmakers has been granted permission to make the first-ever film about the atoll.

The atoll is a complex organism, made up of many different environments: islands, lagoon, open ocean, channels connecting the internal lagoon to the ocean, tidal pools carved out of the reef. Living on and inside these environments is an incredible diversity of wildlife. Our aim is to explore and understand the different environments and in doing so build a picture of the complex life on the atoll.

The film crew start by filming the marine creatures — untold numbers of sharks and smaller fish enter the lagoon to mate and give birth. Predators wait in the channels for the smaller fish to pass in and out of the lagoon. Vulnerable baby fish spend their early lives in the tidal pools, protected from predators.

On land, more than 150,000 birds live on two tiny islands, feeding on the sea life. They thrive here because there is no other land for thousands of miles.

Other creatures, to our crew’s surprise, also survive on land. They capture footage of an octopus walking over the reef and a turtle giving birth on land before making her way painfully back to the ocean.
A rockpool gives an insight into even more fish: surgeonfish and noronha wrasse. The marine animals here move between the atoll’s marine environments, while at the mouth of the atoll the crew finds stingrays, jewfish and sharks. They search for the lemon shark, the Atoll’s top predator, finally finding it on their third expedition.

The Rocas Marine Biological Reserve and the Brazilian government have begun the process of creating an official map, and the atoll was recently given world heritage status. Perhaps, some day soon, Rocas Atoll will be forgotten no more.

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