Private Project

Murder on the Reef (2018, FEATURE)

Murder on the Reef follows the hotly debated issues surrounding the world’s largest living structure, the Great Barrier Reef. But is it too late? Many scientists now believe as much as fifty percent of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef have died. Through a complex mix of voices from locals, to scientists and indigenous spokespeople, this documentary traces the many culprits including water contamination, crown-of-thorns starfish and dredging. But the elephant in the room is climate change and some of the exhausted scientists believe the fight is futile.

In 2016 a massive bleaching event rendered much of the coral in the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef lifeless and colourless but no-one predicted another event would occur the following year. This back to back bleaching was unprecedented and took everyone by surprise including scientists, who had studied these events for many years. While a classroom full of university students wept watching aerials of the devastation, in Canberra, politicians supported by big coal continued their assault on the science.

Australia is the largest exporter of coal which is the largest contributor to emissions and one of the biggest financial contributors to political parties. Banks have stopped funding coal mines in Australia. But the government continue to support these ventures going so far as to brandish a lump of coal on the lower house floor imploring colleagues to see its virtues. “Don’t be afraid of coal” one yells. This is mild compared to the mudslinging that has become commonplace in a parliament more divided and dirtier than ever before. Meanwhile, once vibrant corals are turning white, and the reef is becoming an indicator for what will happen globally.

  • Allen Dobrovolsky
    Murder on the Reef (2018, Short)
  • Alex Fitzwater
    Unleashed (2016), Coffee Culture (2013), Australian Idol (2009), I'm a Celebrity: Biggins Goes Back (2008), Panorama Punks (2008)
  • Nicole McCuaig
    Coming Home: Australia's RSL (2016), The Secret Life of Dugongs (2013), Handle with Care (2011), Keeping the Faithful (2004)
  • Allen Dobrovolsky
    Murder on the Reef (2018, Short)
  • Larissa Waters
    Key Cast
    “Greens Senator”
    The 7PM Project (2009)
  • Ken O'Dowd
    Key Cast
    “Member of Parliament, Gladstone”
    Lateline (1990)
  • Jon Brodie
    Key Cast
    “Senior Scientist, James Cook University, Australia”
  • Tony Brown
    Key Cast
    “President of Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association ”
  • Jon Day
    Key Cast
    “former Director of the GBR Marine Park Authority”
  • Kenny Dodds
    Key Cast
    “Birri Elder, Urannah”
  • Tony Fontes
    Key Cast
  • Jarmbi Gidabul
    Key Cast
    “Ngarakwal Culture Keeper”
  • Terry Hughes
    Key Cast
    “Professor of Marine Biology at James Cook University, Australia ”
  • Bob McCosker
    Key Cast
    “Director of Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre”
  • Paul McLaughlin
    Key Cast
    “Chairman of Bowen Tourism Organisation”
  • Cherry Muddle
    Key Cast
    “Member of Australian Marine Conservation Society”
  • Craig Tomsett
    Key Cast
    “Member of Central Queensland Greens, Bundaberg Region, Australia”
  • Liam Wagner
    Key Cast
    “Energy Economist, Lecturer in Econimics, Griffith University, Australia”
  • Allen Dobrovolsky
    Key Cast
    “Environmental Scientist, Consultant”
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature, Television
  • Genres:
    documentary, adventure, man vs nature
  • Runtime:
    51 minutes 18 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    July 20, 2018
  • Production Budget:
    270,000 AUD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    Australia, Germany
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • The Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival
    Los Angeles
    United States
    May 19, 2018
    Best Documentary Film
  • Near Nazareth Festival
    June 4, 2018
    Best in Documentary
  • International Ecological Film Festival Save and Preserve
    Russian Federation
    June 6, 2018
    Official Selection
  • Move Me Productions

    Official Selection
  • Tryon International Film Festival
    Tryon, NC
    United States
    August 1, 2018
    Official Selection
  • Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival
    Kuala Lumpur
    August 1, 2018
    Official Selection
  • Accolade Global Film Competition
    La Jolla, CA
    United States
    August 3, 2018
    Official Selection
  • A Show for a Change Film Festival
    Long Beach, CA
    United States
    August 4, 2018
    Storytelling Award
  • Catalina Film Festival
    Los Angeles
    United States
    Non Screening Acceptance
Director Biography - Allen Dobrovolsky, Alex Fitzwater

I started my scientific career with a PhD research of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. In 1997 I established a consulting firm and received my environmental laboratory accreditation by the National Association of Testing Authorities in 2003.

I’ve been always fascinated by the unique natural beauty of the Australian environment, particularly, by the Great Barrier Reef. As a conscientious scientist, I’ve been following the developments around the environmental issues of the proposed and approved sediment dredging operations in the vicinity of the reefs.

Since 2014 I’ve been conducting my own monitoring program at the Great Barrier Reef in order to evaluate the changes in the water quality at the reef.

Soon after a team of independent videographers joined my expeditions. We had an opportunity to interview top coral and marine research scientists, along with locals, activists, politicians and indigenous leaders, who were all concerned about the poor outlook for the reef due to the multiple port developments along the reef that are contributing to its poor health.

In February 2017, I established a film production branch, AESA Films, within my main environmental consulting firm in order to complete a documentary about the environmental and political issues at the reef.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

Primary issues represented in the film

The story in the film deals with the degradation in the water quality of the Great Barrier Reef, which is in part due to poor funding of environmental protection, poor implementation of legislation, large-scale development & sediment dredging along the coast and land runoff.

The main voices come from the top coral and marine research scientists in Australia, along with locals, activists, politicians and indigenous leaders, who are all concerned about the poor outlook for the reef due to the multiple port developments along the reef that are contributing to its poor health.

Our story focuses on the fight that has been happening on land around governance of the reef's health.

An example of a collapse of governance is the Gladstone port expansion project, which ended up with an environmental disaster, when the bund wall containing dredge spoils failed, contaminating the Gladstone harbor in 2011. Subsequently to the disaster, local fishermen reported an unprecedented number of dead fish, dugongs, turtles and dolphins.

Importance of the topic

The topic of the film is important because the Great Barrier Reef is a unique natural structure on the planet and has the World Heritage Status. By unveiling the recent history of the bad management of the sediment dredging project in the Gladstone harbor, we are trying to ‘wake up’ the general public and think what may happen, if this disaster will be repeated again. However, this time it will be on a much larger scale, as the port expansion projects have been approved for much larger volumes of sediment dredging in other major ports along the reef. Therefore, the environmental risks of an irreversible disaster at the Great Barrier Reef are much higher.

The latest health check of the reef shows the overall outlook is “poor”, and getting worse. According to the Outlook Report produced by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, climate change is still the greatest threat to the reef. Other threats include land runoff and sediment dredging.

Despite the fact that the leading Australian scientists warn that the reef is in ‘grave danger’ and highlight the need for better protection of the Great Barrier Reef, yet the budget for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has been wound back.

In the film conclusion, we determine that higher level of awareness and close cooperation between the government and marine research scientists, activists, politicians and indigenous leaders is urgently needed to save the world's biggest natural wonder.

Personal reasons for creating the film

As a geochemist, I have conducted a large number of contamination investigations in Australia and overseas.

My PhD research on the impacts of the Chernobyl disaster allows me to assess environmental risks and draw parallels between large scale environmental disasters around the world. Pushing the nuclear reactor’s capabilities to its limits led to the ‘man-made’ Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Thousands of square miles of pristine environment around the Chernobyl nuclear power station became a wasteland. Greenpeace estimated that the number of animal deaths related to the accident was 93,000.

A bad environmental management led to the environmental disaster in one of the Great Barrier Reef’s port of Gladstone in 2011. The bund wall containing dredge spoils failed, which led to the contamination of the port’s harbor. Satellite images showed plumes of turbidity extend as far as 35km from the main dredging site. Hundreds of dead turtles, dugongs and dolphins were reported, as a result of the disaster.

I have an obligation to the Australian public and to the environmentally conscious people around the world to expose existing environmental risks of the recently approved port expansion projects along the shores of the greatest natural wonder of the world.