If you go
› What: “Great Barrier Reef 3D”
› Where: Tennessee Aquarium Imax, 201 Chestnut St.
› When: 7 p.m. premiere Thursday, May 23; then 1, 2, 4 and 5 p.m. daily with additional shows at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
› Admission: $11.95 adults, $9.95 children 3-12
› For more information: www.tnaqua.org
Stretching for more than 1,600 miles just off Australia's northeast coast, the Great Barrier Reef is the kind of natural wonder that is draped in superlatives and mind-boggling statistics that still struggle to encompass its splendor and importance.
"One of the world's greatest living wonders." "An ecosystem of extraordinary diversity."
Sprawling 132,000 square miles — an area larger than the combined footprints of Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina — the Great Barrier Reef comprises 10 percent of the world's coral reef ecosystems and is the only natural structure that can be viewed, unaided, from space.
The reef is home to 600 types of coral, 1,600 kinds of fish, more than 200 bird species, 30 species of whales and dolphins and six of the world's seven sea turtle species. Each year, more than 2.5 million people visit the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to experience its stunning underwaterscapes.
The Tennessee Aquarium is hosting a special event Thursday night, May 23, to debut "Great Barrier Reef 3D," the latest Imax project by the filmmakers at December Media, one of Australia's film and documentary producers.
Narrated by Eric Bana, this giant-screen epic offers the chance to experience the reef's vibrant scenery and diverse wildlife on Chattanooga's largest screen without the expense of an intercontinental flight.
"Great Barrier Reef is an epic adventure into an incredibly vibrant, living world where we tell the story of the reef from the perspective of people who have a close relationship to it," said film director Stephen Amezdroz.
"We follow researchers and volunteers who work and study on the reef and who are leading the efforts to ensure the Great Barrier Reef has a healthy future. We hope the film inspires people to get out and explore nature and become engaged in conservation efforts no matter where they live," the director says.
Of the millions who have visited the reef, few can claim to know it as well as marine conservationist and underwater cinematographer Jemma Craig. The central character of "Great Barrier Reef 3D," Craig was raised on Green Island off the coast of Queensland.
Craig was brought up surrounded by the majesty of the reef and in the company of a host of animals living in her family's crocodile and marine life museum, which they've operated since the 1970s.
"Great Barrier Reef 3D" follows Craig to many locations in the reef on a quest to aid a rescued green sea turtle. Viewers will learn more about her personal relationship with her home and meet others working to safeguard this natural wonder for future generations. Along the way, they'll see astounding views of the reef's diverse animal residents, from gigantic manta rays and minke whales to an enormous (and curiously friendly) Maori wrasse named Wally.
Craig will be on hand Thursday at the Imax Theater to introduce the 7 p.m. showing of "Great Barrier Reef 3D." After the screening, she will answer questions about the film and her experiences as a reef native and conservationist.
From 6 p.m. until the film's debut, guests can enjoy children's activities, get up close with marine invertebrates and listen to music by didgeridoo player Jerry Wallace.
For more information or to purchase tickets: tnaqua.org/imax/great-barrier-reef-3d.
GREAT BARRIER REEF BY THE NUMBERS
3,000: Species of mollusks
1,600: Species of fish
1,600: Miles in length
600: Types of corals
500: Species of worms
133: Species of sharks and rays
100: Species of jellyfish
30: Species of whales and dolphins
14: Species of sea snakes