As mentioned in an earlier post, Rocky and myself weren’t able to make it to Gruissan last summer as we were based on the other side of the world. During our time there, we did some ‘exploring’ or shall we call it ‘connaissance work’ in French Polynesia.
One of the many amazing things we did there was spending over a week on the atoll of Rangiroa in the Tuamotus, diving with a French man called Yves Lefèvre and his dive shop the “Raie Manta Club”. Yves is a famous animal photographer and diving instructor who has travelled and dived the world and fell in love with French Polynesia more than 25 years ago during a trip around the world. He founded his first diving center on Rangiroa, which was actually the first diving center in French Polynesia in 1985. Maybe this doesn’t sound so impressive to non-divers, but he is a real pioneer in his field. After probably tens of thousands of dives he is still fanatic about diving and especially about preserving this place by sharing his incredible passion and an amazing knowledge about any kind of underwater life. He has worked with names such as Jacques Cousteau and the Calypso team, Nicolas Hulot from the television series “Ushuaïa “, and Luc Besson from the filming of Atlantis. David Doubilet, Kurt Amsler, and Peter Benchley regularly call on the services of Yves and the Raie Manta Club for their reports. We were lucky enough to dive ‘true French style’ with this ‘legend’ every day for over a week! He is also promoting the preservation of this unique marine environment, which is constantly endangered by global pollution, over-fishing of the oceans and human development on the atoll.
Rangiroa itself is an atoll, actually one of the largest atolls in the world. It consists of a flat ring of coral about a quater-mile wide that encircles a teeming turquoise lagoon that is 50 miles long by 16 miles wide. In the northern portion there are two villages, Avatoru and Tiputa, which are spread out over 8 miles of coral beach. They are separated by two large “passes” or openings between the ocean and the lagoon: this is where the incredible diving happens!
Through these two little gaps within the atoll the water flushes in and out and therefore provides an incredible marine life. The currents on either outgoing or incoming tide are unbelievable and it took us a while to get used to the ‘underwater roller coaster ride’ while taking in the incredible amount of marine life rushing past us. Divers come to dive here mainly for ‘the big stuff’: a group of resident bottlenose dolphins comes to check out divers most days and actually plays with them, great hammerhead sharks, manta rays, green sea turtles, schools of eagle rays, schools of hundreds of reef sharks, silver tip sharks, napoleon wrasse, turtles and even humpback whales within their season come to hang out and feed on all the marine life in these passages. Not even to mention all those other smaller fish providing food for the ‘big guys’- tuna, jacks, wrasse, snapper… Or the array of coral, sponges and fans. One evening we were even lucky enough to dive at sunset time and witness an amazing spawning of surgeon fish and we again got a glimpse of this amazingly healthy ecosystem. All in all, there was hardly anything we didn’t come across…and all this while drifting at amazing speeds with the current.
After a week of diving, we never got bored during a dive and always kept seeing new things and animals, but our money and time was running out. We cannot wait to return to this amazing place with L’Alliance though I do believe diving with a local, especially a local of such knowledge and passion as Yves, rather than by ourselves is the choice for a place like this. We can only hope that in the future this area keeps being preserved the way it is now.
For anyone who is keen for an amazing diving experience, is in French Polynesia ready to dive and not afraid of some ‘French style’ diving (please do not expect him to stick to any PADI regulations and be ready to break a lot of diving ‘rules’ and go for an underwater roller coaster ride), Yves website is http://www.raiemantaclub.com/. On there you can also find a link to all the books he has written and see some of the amazing pictures he has taken.
Here is a little video I made of our dives… Filmed entirely on a GoPro found on the ocean’s floor… (For all the non-divers out there, it may become a bit boring and please do excuse my camera holding… I was having trouble keeping it still in those currents!)