“Bizarre,” I thought, as I looked at the corals below me. “The sun is already low in the horizon, hidden behind the clouds. The visibility should be marginal. Yet it is so clear. What is going on?” I wondered, looking around with astounding clarity at the diversity of marine creatures.
(Click here for more Green Coco posts about Haraiki atoll, in Tuamotos, French Polynesia)
The Tuamotos is famous for clear water: “100ft plus visibility” is common outside the lagoons, at least. Yet here in Haraiki it was “next level”; the fish & corals looked like a 3D movie, ‘popping’ in the sheer transparency of the water. Part of the reason for picture perfect water, I realized, was the shallowness of the reef pass (10-20ft) and the small size of the atoll, which meant a lack of sediment.
The next surprise: the white tip reef sharks were remarkably… BOLD. Usually they are quite timid, compared to the somewhat more confident black tips, and especially the crazy-eyed, often fearless gray reef sharks. But here the white tips were swimming right up to us, not veering away as they usually do when we face them. It was unnerving.
“Errr maybe it’s shark feeding hour, and we should come back tomorrow morning,” I rallied Gary and Ethan back to the dinghy.
Although the white tips were more relaxed the next day, they were still the most curious sharks I’ve ever encountered. They kept doing loops to check us out – not menacing, just really curious. Watching from this close was transfixing: their cat-like narrow eyes, and bodies undulating like dancing snakes.
If the multitudes of sharks ever got boring, you could spend hours looking at the nuanced details of every coral formation in Haraiki’s pass. It was a huge carpet of fervent life.
The Tuamotos is renown as a rare archipelago in the world whose corals are improving in quality. The lack of human population & fishing pressure, and possibly cooler water temperatures, are some of the reasons why the coral in Tuamotos is in great shape – at least outside the lagoons (in comparison, inside the lagoons there is a widespread degree of mortality in corals, especially near villages; and in the Society Islands, much more so.)
However, in none of the other 10 Tuamoto atolls we’ve visited, I’d never seen coral at this level of peak health (Tahanea and Makemo are next in line). The corals’ colors, shapes, and textures were a true thing of beauty. The shallow water created fantastic lighting, and closeness made it feel like we were hovering over an entire city of coral. We floated past sky scrapers of coral and looked down at suburban neighborhoods; their resident fish and organisms flying through the water column like futuristic self-driving vehicles, commuting to work or play.
When we were exhausted from being underwater, we explored the motus surrounding the boat, collected shells from the coral-debris beach, and harvested coconuts.
Despite being amazed by Haraiki’s underwater world, and thoroughly enjoying the deserted island, a thought still nagged at our brains. We still had to navigate Aldebaran back out of Haraiki, through the minefield of coral and breaking waves in the pass, before the next swell was due to arrive.
We still needed to “escape” this little paradise…