Polynesian waters are inhabited by 800 fish species shared between the lagoon, the reef and the ocean.
The clown-fish which lives in symbiosis with anemons, the picasso triggerfish, the yellow moorish idol, the emperor angelfish… are between the fishes which fantastic colors have made the reputation of South-sea islands. Most of them rarely move off the reef where they both find food and take shelter.
The parrot-fish is paradoxically a pacific herbivorous : his beak is only used to graze the algal that are fastened to the reef. Their famous blue color is only worn by adult male.
One of the most majestous inhabitants of the lagoon –and one of the most appreciated by visitors- is without contest the ray which misterouis flight amazes everyone who cross
her road. Three types of rays live in Polynesia : the most spectacular and famous member of the family is the giant manta ray that has a wingspan up to 25 feet across; the spotted eagle ray is smaller than the manta ray and is characterized by its black splashes, and finally the sting ray which buries itself in the sand.
A lot of shark varieties, living in the lagoon or in the ocean, are to be found in Polynesia : the black tipped shark and the white-tipped reef shark mostly frequent lagoons and channels. Bigger sharks living in the ocean like the grey shark, the tiger shark or the great hammerhead shark can be seen during dives.
Tunas, bonitos, the mahi mahi, the pacific wahoo, the moonfish or the swordfishonly live offshore. They are fished every day for their flesh, very prized by Tahitian people.
Scientists who have studied mammals in French Polynesia have shown that more than 20 dolphins and whales species live yearly or stay for a few months in our waters. Thus the American sea biologist Michael Poole proved that French Polynesia was not only a migration zone but a true sanctuary for whales breeding and births. Moreover, he has counted more than 200 spinner dolphins in 10 years of observations.
- Humpback whales can reach 16m long and 35t weight and only feed withkrill and little fishes that abound in the Poles cold seas. But in order to avoid the rigours of winter, humpback whales from Antarctic migrate to more tempered Polynesian waters to give birth and breed. So – since late July, early August – mothers and their babies can be seen along Moorea and Austral islands reefs. During all the period of breastfeeding -around 5 months- mothers do not eat but feed their baby with a very rich milk that permits him to grow quickly so that he might face the trip back to the Pole, around late October.
- Spinner dolphins -that reach 2m long- are also accustomed to Society islands. They particularly appreciate the hot and pristine waters of lagoons and passes.
- Bottle-nosed dolphins reach 3 to 4m long and can be seen near the coasts in the Marquesas and the Tuamotu islands and around Bora Bora as well according to a recent scientific studies.
Polynesian waters are home to two species of turtles : the green turtle that can reach up to 1.5m and 230kg weight; and the overlapped turtle more little in size (90cm maximum for 50kg).
Unfortunately, these two species are in danger of becoming extinct because of pollution and poaching, in spite of the Washington decree and a local legislation that forbid to hunt them. Ancients Polynesians alredy prized their flesh that was reserved to the society elite.
In cooperation with the Ministry and the Delegation of the Environment, Le Méridien Bora Bora hotel contributes to their preservation offering them a haven of peace : baby turtles grow up far away from any predator and sick turtles receive medical cares before being freed.
Coral, heart of the ecosystem
Tahitian people have always had a special relationship with ocean that they sometimes call “Feeding Mother”. French Polynesia is actually known all around the world for being an exceptional diving site by its richness and diversity.
But actually, the real feeding element is coral for it is one of the first link in the food chain. Moreover, corals are really demanding concerning the quality of water : a too high temperature (idealy between 20 and 30 degrees), a poluted environment… will cause its death. Thus coral is a good indicator of the underwater world health.
Besides, corals, patient architects of the reef, also offer a shelter to many species. Finally, they allow the construction of a closed, sheltered and not deep sea space : the lagoon.
Shellfish and mollusks
The main shellfish are lobsters –which hide in the cracks in the oceanic slope,squilla –really prized for their fine flesh, Hermit crabs –which absorb the organic waste that forms a deposit on the reef, and many crab species that can be herbivorous, necrophagous, carnivorous or omnivorous.
The mollusk family, which is strongly represented in the polynesian reefs and lagoons, is usually classified into two main classes : the gasteropods and thebivalves. The gasteropoda include all the famous shellfish dear to collectors, some of which are very rare and can only be found in Tahiti and her Islands.
Giant clams are very commun in the Tuamotu, where their shell is still used by the islanders in their daily life. Giant clams are characterized by their blue, purple or yellow mantles that can be eaten. The more famous of the bivalves is of course the pearl-oyster, Pinctada margaritifera.
Amongst molluscs, octupus is to be counted. His sharp sense of vision allows him to hunt crabs that are its main food. The lagoon is also inhabited by starfish and sea-eggs like the vana or the fetu’e which spines look like pens and that are to be found on the frontal zones of the reeef.
Algal and phytoplankton, so as coral, are essential for the ecosystem since they produce their own organic matter that contributes to feed the rest of fauna.They are in fact the first link of the food chain and permit the development of a rich and diverse underwater world.
- Caullerpa just let themselves go with currents and surge. Halimeda, a green articulated algae, and turbinaria ornata, a brown cylindrical and spiny algae can also be accounted.
- Calcareous algal is often confused with coral : this particularity allow them to attach strongly to the reef, contributing by their action to reinforce it.
- Cyanophycées, which live in the stagnant waters of the lagoon, are microscopic algal.