Sunday, September 21, 2014

Moorea: Underwater Adventures

Moorea is a beautiful island in the Society group of French Polynesia. Only 15 miles removed from Tahiti, its dramatic contour is visible (and luring) from there on clear days, and as a destination it is only a three-four hour sail or a one hour ferry ride away. Moorea is a “high” island surrounded by coral reefs. Its body consists of sharply outlined peaks, green hills and white sand beaches. Between shore and reef, the lagoon presents smooth clear waters of all shades of blue. Because of its close proximity to Tahiti and its plethora of things to see and do, Moorea attracts heaps of tourists. You see them being transported in vans, buses or pick-up trucks onshore and being ferried on tours with lagoon and whale watch boats, dive boats or jetskis. On busy days, Irie has to swallow a lot of wake and bounciness, but usually, the anchorage we are in right now is pretty quiet and we are the only boat around; a rare sight in Moorea! We enjoy privacy and comfort in a sublime setting.

Spiky sea cucumber
Big coral boulders
Colorful clam
Even though Moorea has many reefs and a myriad of coral patches, the snorkeling is only fair, since most of the coral is dead and therefore lightly populated with reef fish and other underwater creatures. Mark and I have been in the water with flippers and masks in different areas surrounding the north coast. At the reef anchorage NE of Cook’s Bay, only a rare patch of live coral was to be found and the fish population was very limited. The reef anchorage NW of Opunohu Bay offered a surprise during my first swim, when I snorkeled over dark rocks that appeared to be tikis. They were! Underwater tikis are strewn near the two white mooring balls in this area of the anchoring shelf. They are a nice addition to the coral reefs presenting an average amount of live coral and colorful fish. Sting rays and the occasional shark keep the underwater adventures interesting. Unfortunately, many of the reefs are presently overgrown with algae. We had heard about a good snorkeling spot in between the two motus (islands) NW of Moorea. We took our dinghy over there – a long ride away – but, once again, found not much of interest, except tour groups.

The underwater highlight of Moorea is called “Stingray City”, a dedicated area where stingrays – and now also an increasing amount of reef sharks – gather. The reason: tour operators feed the rays who, in return, love to be around people and even climb on them, offering tourists the opportunity to touch and stroke these gentle creatures and take amazing pictures. Some rays even climb all over the people standing and swimming in the shallow water, so we’ve heard. Not a fan of feeding wildlife (even though the stingray feeding has been an attraction on Moorea for over twenty years), Mark and I parked our dinghy amongst the tour boats, and I jumped in the water to see what all the fuzz was about. Mark remained dry above the water surface, because the circling sharks – outnumbering the sting rays – put him off from jumping in. The fact that a tourist had been bitten by a shark here a week prior supported his decision.

I saw some stingrays swimming about, but most must have been tired from all the commotion and feeding earlier in the morning, because they were resting on the bottom, covered with white sand. Since we didn’t have any food to give them, they went about their business after the initial curiosity and anticipation hearing our outboard engine upon our arrival. Even though I managed to stroke one of the bigger residents, I was a little disappointed that they didn’t “climb all over me”. Like in South Fakarava in the Tuamotus, many black tip reef sharks were present – in this tranquil climate I almost had to urge to pet them as well – but they just swam around and kept their distance. Maybe coming over earlier in the morning, before all the tourist hubbub starts, provides better interaction with the velvety and gracious stingrays?

Petting a Tahitian stingray

Coral patches between the two motus

Spotted Sandperch

Moorea houses a lot of dead coral, blooming algae and few fish

Tahitian stingray digging itself in

Picasso Triggerfish attacking my mask and chasing me off

One of the submerged tikis

Another underwater tiki

And a third underwater treasure

Tahitian stingray up-close

And a bunch of sharks... up-close

A couple of stingrays

Black tip reef shark with remora underneath

Stingray climbing a tour boat for more food - the fact that there are this many fish in one place, means that food was thrown in the water to attract the wildlife and enhance the tourists' snorkeling experience

Black tip and a stingray covered by sand

Swimming reef sharks and resting rays

1 comment:

Lisa Dorenfest said...

Glad to see you both enjoying yourselves. Wish we had snorkled in Moorea. Would have loved to have seen those Tikis!