Coral Gardens, Tahaa
Sat 16 Aug 2014 19:24
Looking down the channel between the motus at the Coral Gardens with Bora Bora in the distance.
On the Eastern of Tahaa there are three little motus on the reef. The channel between the first two has a continuous flow of clear sea water from outside the reef sweeping through it. The result is a wonderful array of live coral complete with a huge variety of fish. The fish are friendly and inquisitive as they are used to visitors, who often feed them. Baguettes are their standard fare, being French polynesian fish but we found them very partial to a few dried prawns.
It's pretty shallow, the deepest parts being no more than 4 or 5 feet; the shallow bits have you lifting your belly as you pass over the top of the coral. We landed the dinghy on the second motu and followed the path along its length to enter the channel at the reef end then simply allowed ourselves to drift along as we snorkelled, steering ourselves around the bommies, occasionally holding on to a rock with one hand just to watch a while.
An inquisitive Picasso Triggerfish (there's a parrot fish passing behind him, he doesn't have a strange green tail!) and Nemo peeping out from an anemone. The anemones can fold themselves completely inside the strange orange bags they come out from.
There were plenty of "Nemos" (Clark's) to enjoy but we also found little black anemone fish, with electric blue stripes instead of white on orange which we couldn't find in our fish book. The damsel fish continued to delight us - they are so protective of their little patch of rock or coral, swimming up to our faces aggressively when we come close, holding out their pectoral fins either side and putting up their spiny dorsal fins, all puffed up outrage! One did actually nip me once, I was holding onto his rock to watch some other fish and as I clearly wasn't responding to his impressive show of indignation he resorted to brute force - quite impressive when we consider our respective sizes. It worked: I yelped and moved.
The fish that had held me so captive whilst the damsel went through his threat dance were Phil's favourites: humbug fish (Humbug Dascyllus). These are little fish, smaller than anemone fish, coloured black and white (in stripes of course, but I doubt they taste minty), with a big white spot between their eyes. The white is very white and the black is very black so they look quite as impressive as the "Nemos" but are much shyer. You have to stay very still for some time before you can see them. As soon as you move they disappear into the branches of the corals, gradually returning, one by one, if you wait patiently. There are lots of other little fish that hang like a colourful cloud over the coral and do a disappearing act when you get too close. They are bright blue, green, orange or yellow, and some of the yellow ones have an incredibly bright neon blue strip along their back. But however bright they are, they vanish completely within the branches and folds of the coral.
At the end of the drift, where the channel opens out and the current slackens off, we could stand in the chest high water to feed the fish. They were completely unafraid and in fact a few were pretty cheeky, especially the Hardwick's Wrasse who not only nipped whole prawns from our fingers, instead of politely nibbling like the trigger fish and butterfly fish, they also grabbed and made off with the little bags we'd brought the prawns in!
Jon and Phil in clouds of fish. Notice the 'team colours' rash vests; Tottenham Hotspur goalies?
The greedy Hardwick wrasse. Jon called them Hippy Wrasse because of the pink flower power design around their eyes. They are actually brighter than this picture - my underwater camera case had fogged up!
Another feature of the Coral Gardens were the clams. Because the water is so shallow we could get right up close to these beautiful creatures, the vivid blues and greens of their zigzag gently pulsing. We saw some interesting brown and green ones too, almost leopard print, which we hadn't noticed elsewhere.
clam and Scribbled Rabbit fish behind a Double Saddle Butterfly fish.
Whilst I was back in the UK we got a super duper all inclusive reef fish identification book, and Scotia gave me a French Polynesia reef fish identification book too. However, we've been seeing this chap since the Touamotus and still can't find him in any guide... perhaps we have discovered a previously unknown-to man-fish! In which case, any suggestions for naming him? Phil says "The red tailed, white finned, yellow winged trigger fish" but I want something snappier!
Some kind of Triggerfish, with those (almost see through) white dorsal and anal fins, a striking red tail and bright yellow pectoral fins.