Society Islands, French Polynesia
The Living Oceans Foundation conducts coral reef research in the Society islands, a group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean that are a part of French Polynesia. The more famous destinations in the archipelago are Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Moorea. Over the last two decades, a number of the more well-known sites have been badly damaged, but little is known regarding how extensive the damage is and how well the reefs are recovering.
Our first mission to the Society islands French Polynesia focused on eight locations– four low-lying atolls, two steep-sloped volcanic islands, and two small atolls. The coral and fish communities at each site varied considerably, which provides us with an ideal location to evaluate coral reef resilience, the health of key indicator organisms, and processes that affect recovery. Our goal is to identify the healthiest and most valuable coral reefs in the region, and to determine how quickly these damaged reefs are rebounding from damage.
Out of all the archipelagos we surveyed in French Polynesia, the Society islands had the lowest overall coral cover. At the three most remote sites, the coral communities flourished on the outside part of the reef, but the deeper areas had few corals and many of the colonies were recently dead. The islands were severely damaged by predation from past outbreaks of crown of thorns starfish, but recovery is underway. High numbers of small, young corals indicate that the damaged areas are being recolonized and growing at unusually rapid rates of recovery. Human impacts are also a problem in the Society islands, particularly the overharvesting of certain species, such as giant clams.