Despite global warming, coral reefs encircling Polynesia’s lagoons are showing great tenacity. Diving in the lagoons of these remote islands will give you an opportunity to admire the many sparkling young shoots being born again on reefs that we thought had been destroyed.
In every tropical areas of the world, where coral has built its barriers, the enchanted rings of its atolls and the rich ecosystems of its coastal reefs, everywhere coral reefs are in danger. They suffer from the increase in oceans’ temperature and from its indirect consequences: more frequent and more destructive hurricanes, like Oli, which recently devastated some coastal reefs in French Polynesia’s high islands, proliferation of predators such as the Acanthaster (a giant starfish known in Polynesia under the name Taramea) or seaweeds (the turbinaria, which invade some lagoons and seem to be carried by rafts made of plants drifting with the currents). Then there is human development, the increase in population, etc. Some world areas, such as Malaysia, have closed for several years a portion of their diving sites.
A Delicate Balance
The coral’s life and growth are the result of a delicate balance between the coral polyp and the microscopic algae with which it lives in symbiosis, and which brings to it the nutrient necessary for its development. If a predator to these algae develops and the coral can no longer grow. The CRIOBE, Center of Insular Research and Environment Observatory, based in the island of Moorea, carefully monitors the coral condition in French Polynesia, but also in the context of the Polynesia Mana network, in the archipelagos of Wallis & Futuna, Kiribati, Niue, Tonga Cook, Tokelau, Pitcairn. Julie Petit, Research Engineer for the World Fish Center and for Reefbase Polynésie, confirms: “In French Polynesia, coral reefs remain overall in good health and are not yet affected by the Climate change phenomenon. The real problems concern local pollutions: these serious environmental problems concern only the most populated islands in the Society Islands archipelago whose fringing reefs are in bad shape. The other islands, i.e. the majority of the Territory’s 118 islands, have healthy reefs due to low human population density and in spite of the absence of reasonable management. The vitality condition is controlled essentially by natural factors, which mark the species’ abundance and diversity, generally over cycles whose period is of the order of 2 to 3 decades”
Young Coral Shoots
As far as they are concerned, French Polynesia’s coral reefs are doing fine. Spreading on over 12,800 km2, they also suffered from the rise in water temperature. When after sailing around the world on my catamaran Banana Split, I reached the Gambier Islands again in 2002, some scientists had just observed the death of a large quantity of coral in this small archipelago located at the end of the Tuamotu Islands.
But still over the years, during my dives – I swim almost daily in the lagoons of the most preserved islands – I was happy to observe the remarkable vivacity of Polynesian coral. On coral heads that looked for ever lifeless, and where the dead acropora (“table coral”) had taken the look of depressing ghosts, I saw more and more young coral shoots of all kinds growing back in larger and larger numbers, various forms and colors. I am not a scientist, I’m just a lover of nature, whose undersea behavior interests me in particular. All I have to do is dive a few meters deep in the remote islands lagoons and passes to marvel about the tenacity of this minuscule animal creature, the coral polyp, which, day after day without ever stopping, builds these tormented, spherical, flat, volumes chiseled like candelabras or similar to gigantic flowers.
A Message Of Optimism
It is really a question of cycles. If globally, we are moving toward an aggravation of the coral situation in the world, the Polynesian coral reef, far from the too developed portions of the high islands, remains a marvel for the visitor who ventures in coral areas. For me, in the Tuamotu, in the Gambier, in the Australs (I even had a chance to dive in the lagoon of the Mururoa atoll: since for a very long times nobody catches fish there, its undersea fauna is extremely rich), I never tire of admiring nature’s imagination when it creates these extraordinary shapes and these unlikely colors.
If you dive around the Society Islands, your diving instructors will lead you to the most preserved sites, but if you have an opportunity to go to the Tuamotu lagoons (Rangiroa, Fakarava, Makemo have well structured diving centers), you will marvel, like I did, about this message of optimism delivered by sparkling young coral shoots that have just been reborn.
Antoine, a popular French singer in the 1960’s, has been sailing the oceans on his sailboat for nearly forty years, with a preference for the Pacific. From his travels, he brings back photographs and documentary films dedicated to the most beautiful islands in the world. His song “Touchez pas à la Mer” (Don’t Touch The Sea) has raised the awareness of many young Polynesians to the protection of our lagoons.