'Recent models suggest that French Polynesia might serve as a climate refuge for the survival of reefs in the future.' In some French Polynesian sites they found as many as 300 fish per square meter.
In the worst affected areas, coral cover was as low as five per cent. One of the key objectives of the research is to establish what makes reefs more resilient to a multitude of stresses such as warming oceans, cyclone damage, and pollution.
I think the trip you are planning sounds wonderful! We loved Hushing, and Bora is just gorgeous, and you really cannot beat the diving in Ranging.
No, but that is another reason to return to FP, to see Jakarta then. The combination of all we love is found there, and there is much more variety available than Jakarta.
Jakarta is larger than Tokelau, but smaller than Ranging (the villages). So Ranging offers more shops and more places for meals off resort, and spectacular snorkeling and unbelievable diving.
Last year, we saw a baby dolphin nursing while diving. The coral was great at both places just that diving in Jakarta we saw some of the best ever.
However, if I could go to only one atoll, or even one place in FP, I'd choose Ranging over Jakarta or Tokelau, and would add on Jakarta or Tokelau if I had the option to go to two atolls in one trip. The islands are gorgeous, and you can find beautiful snorkel places there too.
Without a doubt one of the most breathtaking natural elements of The Islands of Tahiti is the sparkling blue lagoons and crystal clear waters. Diving into these waters, which are 80 degrees year round in many of the islands, offers you an opportunity to engage with a broad range of marine life.
Most of the French Polynesian coral reefs are in shallow water, fringing the land and creating a barrier to the sea, allowing for beautiful still lagoons to form around islands. This area, called the Blue Lagoon, is the perfect place to visit for a day and enjoy a variety of marine life and pristine lotus.
Coral atolls, such as Jakarta, Ranging or Tokelau, are also wonderful for diving as these giant lagoons in the ocean are havens for marine life which flood in from narrow seas passes. In Ranging and Jakarta, you can do a drift dive where currents from nearby passes surge deep under the water and can carry you effortlessly through the vibrant coral gardens below.
Here you can spot Napoleon wrasse, butterfly fish, angelfish, cornet fish and even octopus and eels! Larger animals such as giant manta rays, several varieties of sharks, seas turtles, and mammals such as dolphins and whales can also be found here.
The coral reefs are an excellent place to go swimming with dolphins, sharks and whales. @Aliciaunderwater for Coral Gardeners Aiming at protecting and preserving the amazing and vibrant snorkeling conditions that exist in The Islands of Tahiti, many resorts have also started introducing a Biorock program.
While there is very good snorkeling in French Polynesia most of it requires a (although often short) boat trip rather than being great right from shore. I also agree that the Tuamotu are the best for snorkeling in FP, and reading through that pensions trip report thread you might find very helpful.
The best snorkeling (and diving) in this part of the world that I've done (and I've been to most of the places the above poster mentions, all of which are excellent suggestions) is off Lizard Island on the outer Great Barrier Reef, but that's a very expensive (albeit small) resort. Introduction Scattered across the central South Pacific are the 118 islands and 84 atolls that make up French Polynesia.
These islands and atolls are grouped into five archipelagos, including the Society, Tuamotu, Gambler, Marquesas, and Austral Islands, that together have a total landmass of only 3,600 square kilometers. Its territory extends into the open ocean, encompassing the surrounding five million square kilometers in the South Pacific.
These waters are home to wide array of corals that provide foundation for some of the most diverse, fragile, globally-important, and often overlooked ecosystems on Earth (Figure 1). An image of a healthy coral reef located in the lagoon of Ranging, French Polynesia, an atoll island.
Political History Delving into FrenchPolynesia’s colonial history can provide context for the current status of environmental policy and conservation of coral reefs. In 1946, French Polynesia became an Overseas Country of France and was granted a Territorial Assembly.
The statutory law, written legislation that can be amended, outlines FrenchPolynesia’s legal and institutional relationship with France. Over the past decades, statutes have been amended and created to grant French Polynesia more control over local law.
In 1984, with the passing of a new statue for self-governance, French Polynesia transitioned from an “overseas territory” to an “overseas country,” allowing French Polynesia to appoint its own president in addition to being administered by multiple ministers. Traditionally, French Polynesia sustained its economy on practices such as agriculture and lagoon fishing.
The CEP shifted the resource-driven economy into one based on wages and services and relied on funding from France. The CEP was dismantled in 1998, but has had lasting impacts on FrenchPolynesia’s expanding consumerism, urbanization, and coastal development, putting pressure on both the society and ecosystems.
In 2004, a new statute transitioned French Polynesia from a territory to its present-day status as an Overseas Country of France. Environmental Policy It was not until 1984 that the Statute for Self Government granted French Polynesia autonomy.
This provision gave the local government control over its own environmental protection policies. However, enforcement of regulations and legal proceedings still rests in the hands of the French Government, represented in the Territory by the High Commissioner of the Republic.
However, the government of France controlled the entire four million square kilometers of the islands’ Exclusive Economic Zone until a new statute was passed in 1996. The EEA is defined as a zone extending 200 nautical miles off the coastline of a state in which it has jurisdiction over natural resources.
This amended statute allowed French Polynesia to control its own administrative arrangements and regional cooperation agreements with neighboring Pacific countries. With the shift in government, more of FrenchPolynesia’s annual budget is now being set aside for environmental projects, including plans for developing a sewage infrastructure.
However, there are gaps in conservation policy and enforcement that pose a risk to FrenchPolynesia’s diverse coral reef ecosystems. FrenchPolynesia’s coasts and lagoons are home to 12,800 square kilometers of coral reef formations totaling more than 2,000 km in length.
Isolated by thousands of nautical miles from large human populations, FrenchPolynesia’s reefs remain some of the most pristine in the world. They are facing mounting stress due to climate change, making them even more vulnerable to the negative impacts of coastal development.
The main coral families found in French Polynesia are Acroporidae, Faviidae, and Agariciidae, with the dominant species in different regions depending on the geography of the reef. Coral reefs create a globally-important ecosystem by supporting more species per unit area than any other marine environment.
Across the globe, reefs provide habitat for a diverse array of species, including algae, lobster, clams, seahorses, sponges, sea turtles, and charismatic megafauna such as sharks and dolphins. In total, reefs are home to over two million marine species, including over 30% of all fish in the ocean (Figure 2), and scientists believe there may still be millions of undiscovered species that live in or around coral reefs.
Due to its isolation and complex geography, FrenchPolynesia’s coral ecosystem is especially diverse, boasting the highest marine diversity in the world with up to 2,000 species being recorded on a single reef, including many native species found nowhere else in the world. A wide array of species live on the coral reef in the lagoon of Ranging, French Polynesia.
In addition to supporting a wide array of organisms, coral reefs also play an important role in sustaining adequate nutrients, such as nitrogen, that help support the entire marine food web. They contribute to the maintenance of favorable water conditions by detoxifying and sequestering waste introduced into oceanic environments by humans and are also highly interconnected with other near-shore ecosystems.
For example, by acting as a buffer between ocean currents, wave energy, and coastlines, reefs create ideal conditions for mangroves and seagrass beds, both important coastal habitats. They also provide important storm defenses by sheltering the coastline from wave action, mitigating erosion and loss of life and property, and protecting wetlands, ports, and harbors.
This is a service that is especially valuable to the relatively low-lying French Polynesian islands and atolls. In addition to being an invaluable ecological resource, coral reefs have significant economic, cultural, and social importance around the world.
Coral reef ecosystem services can be broken up into three categories: tourism, coastal protection, and fisheries. In French Polynesia, many people still rely on services provided by coral reefs to meet every day needs such as food, water, shelter, and medicine.
Coral reefs support fisheries as well as other food sources (i.e., mussels, crustaceans, sea cucumbers, and seaweeds) that provide basic sustenance and income (Figures 3a-3b). Tahiti is the largest, most densely populated, and best -known French Polynesian island and boasts an array of tourist attractions that are reef-dependent.
Proof of this is found upon walking into the Paper’etc Tourism Office, where a vast array of hotel and excursion brochures boast attractions such as coral gardens” and “the greatest dive show on earth!” World-class snorkeling and diving among FrenchPolynesia’s reefs and lagoons is the foundation of the tourism industry, which brings in 10% of Tahiti’s GDP and employs 10% of its workers. Finally, FrenchPolynesia’s coral reefs have cultural significance, as management of coral reefs was traditionally community-based, fostering cooperation and the sharing of place-based knowledge among community members.
(Top) Parrot fish, a common reef fish and food source in French Polynesia, for sale at a vendor’s stand in the market in Paper’etc, Tahiti. (Bottom) A parrot fish swimming among Ranging's corals.
Infrastructure construction along shorelines for housing, recreational facilities, and industry, especially in small island countries, makes coastal areas more prone to erosion. Erosion transports sediment towards fringing coral reefs during heavy rain and storms, causing high rates of coral mortality due to an increase in seawater turbidity and reduction in sunlight that symbiotic zooxanthellae require for photosynthesis.
In some extreme cases, sedimentation can even cause immediate death of corals as a result of smothering (Figure 4). A coral reef covered by a layer of sediment in Moore, French Polynesia.
Tourism is a main driving force behind coastal development in French Polynesia. The increase in new tourist accommodations in coastal areas not only increases the number of people living in these places, but also the amount of food resources required and the waste generated.
Despite the efforts of the Ministry of the Environment to promote recycling, it is reported that even in Punjabi, the town nicknamed “the Golden Tortoise” by the Polynesian environment society, only 50% of the potential recyclables are collected. In Tahiti, about 60,000 tons of non-recyclable waste is produced every year (comparable to mainland France) and unauthorized dumping sites have developed all over the island.
An official at the Department of Education in City Hall, Paper’etc, reported that there was no proper waste management system and regarded pollution as a major environmental concern of Tahiti. He further added that it was impossible to farm without using fertilizers and pesticides in order to meet the island’s demand for food resources.
Coral reefs are adapted to extremely low nutrient levels; the addition of extra nutrients leads to algal blooms that decrease water clarity and block sunlight required by corals for photosynthesis. The threats due to coastal development driven by the growing tourism industry present a conservation challenge that the government, local communities, and conservation organizations are striving to address.
Fruits and vegetables at the Paper'etc market that are grown and sold locally in French Polynesia. The end goal of resource management was to ensure that food and medicine stocks would not be depleted and would always be plentiful for future generations.
However, these management techniques have slowly been eroded with the shift to a more capitalistic economy. Now, lack of government funding and capacity is a significant barrier to resource management and conservation.
One solution to this was the creation of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Program (PREP). Its 2011-2015 Strategic Action Plan identifies four strategic priorities: climate change, biodiversity and ecosystem management, water management and pollution control, and environmental monitoring and governance.
PREP helped establish territorial reserves on two atolls in the Society Islands in 1992. As a result, the Marine Resources Division controls activities such as pearl culture and fishing, but proper enforcement is challenging.
In an effort to focus on coral reef conservation, the French Polynesian government is also working to establish Management Plans of Marine Areas (Mamas). With the support of PREP, Bora-Bora and Moore implemented management plans in 1998.
The goal of the plans was to foster sustainable resource use and preserve threatened ecosystems, while involving all stakeholders in the process and creating amicable relationships among the parties. Management Plans for other areas including Vanuatu, Fa kahuna, Radiated, That, Ranging, Maratha, Tokelau, Batavia, and Jakarta islands are in the works.
The Marquesas, an archipelago made up of thirteen islands, six of which are inhabited, provides a good example of another strategy that is being used on a regional level to promote conservation. Local government for the Marquesas is based in Nuke Shiva, the most populous of the islands.
We met with three deputy mayors and a local councilor from Nuke Shiva, who spoke about the Marquesas’ six-year plan focusing on development, construction, and preservation. There is currently one island in the southern part of the archipelago that is protected for educational purposes, and over the past few years, scientists have designated another island in the north to become a protected area.
In order to establish this protected area, the Marquesas government is working to complete requirements to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the mayors said this is a slow process, and lack of adequate financial resources still remains a challenge for conservation initiatives.
In the face of such challenges, community involvement remains an important force, and the government holds community gatherings to facilitate collaboration and promote progress. The Future of Coral Conservation The challenges that Nuke Shiva faces in developing protected areas are not unique.
Adequate funding is a significant barrier to conservation efforts throughout French Polynesia and when protected areas are designated, enforcement becomes the next big challenge. However, these challenges are not insurmountable, especially with local community collaboration in conservation efforts.
As populations rise and the tourism industry spreads to previously isolated islands, coral reefs become increasingly vulnerable to extinction. Coral conservation remains critical to preserving an important traditional resource in French Polynesia, as well as maintaining biodiversity and marine ecosystem health around the world.
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