At 70 feet deep, the groupers were packed like sardines, barely swimming side by side, waiting for their turn to spawn. We lay with them breathing on SCUBA. Calmly, the fish moved around and above us, like we were at a music concert with just standing room. But the real show was fish themselves.
We were there for a once-a-year phenomenon: the spawning of the camouflage grouper. They gather in the passes of the Tuamotus in humongous numbers, timing with the full moon closest to the winter solstice (June 21 in the southern hemisphere).
The mind-blowing part wasn’t just the sheer numbers of fish all around us — it was how intimate the experience felt. All the fish were incredibly relaxed, they swam up to us like they wanted to be petted. Then as a females made their move to release eggs, the males suddenly exploded in a flurry, trying get into the action, spiraling upwards in the water column at warp speed, followed soon by other fish and reef sharks hoping to eat eggs or hapless fish not paying attention.
Mind you, this is occurring during an outgoing current in really rough seas, so if we do it wrong, we drift out to sea in a flash.. There is a lot at stake as we then have to surface in the radical turbulence of 2 foot standing waves and currents, and hope our dinghy driver is there to pick us up.
The day before the spawning… the camouflage groupers are congregating in huge numbers.
The actual spawning is fast and furious…
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