The sight of an enormous whale shark swimming directly towards you – its unique patterns clearly visible and wide mouth inhaling a banquet of krill – is quite something, yet these gentle giants of the ocean are just one of the drawcards in this short documentary screening as part of the “full dome experience” program at the Freemasons Hall.

Ningaloo – Australia’s Other Great Reef, filmed in 4K resolution using a 200-degree fisheye lens, follows young marine scientist Anna Cresswell on her mission to witness the annual synchronised mass coral spawning on the reef.

She is on board a two-person submersible named the Odyssea, and viewers reclining on beanbags in the dome are treated to some stunning underwater imagery from Ningaloo. As well as the whale shark – the largest living fish – there are colourful little fish swimming through the crevasses and crannies of the reef, a green sea turtle mooching in that way turtles do, a manta ray gracefully gliding overhead, and a grey reef shark patrolling the clear aqua water.

A photo of the whale shark, taken inside the dome during the screening of Ningaloo – The Other Great Reef.

Aerial footage helps us appreciate the beauty of the area from a different vantage point, while also offering an idea of the scale of the World Heritage-listed reef, which stretches for some 260 kilometres along WA’s north-west coast.

Cresswell’s narration drives home the environmental message behind the documentary; she believes that better understanding of coral spawning may ultimately help scientists to protect coral reefs from the damage caused by climate change. When the beauty of the complex ecosystems thriving amid the live coral is contrasted with the almost post-apocalyptic scene of a patch of seabed affected by coral bleaching, it is nothing short of shocking.

Tension builds as the time of the mass coral spawning at Ningaloo draws near and tiny ocean predators work themselves into a frenzy of anticipation. So much relies on this amazing annual phenomenon in which reefs simultaneously release their tiny eggs and sperm that the relief is palpable when fertilisation is successful and the coral larva floats to the surface of the ocean.

Created by Perth-based Prospero Productions, Ningaloo – Australia’s Other Great Reef is an ideal selection for showing in the 10m-diameter dome, although it perhaps doesn’t feel quite as immersive as might be expected. At under 30 minutes, the film is also over all too soon, but it’s an affordable and family-friendly Fringe experience for only $8-12 a ticket.

Nature lovers could opt for back-to-back dome experiences by booking to see Whale Super Highway, which screens an hour earlier and follows the migration of humpback whales from to top of WA to Antarctica. Another dome tip: Spend a couple of minutes arranging your beanbag for peak reclining comfort before the film begins.

Ningaloo – Australia’s Other Great Reef: Full Dome Experience is screening in the Great Hall at the Freemasons Hall until March 17. Read InReview’s feature about the dome experiences here.

Read more 2024 Adelaide Fringe coverage here on InReview.    

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