The Coral Gardens of French Polynesia

To be among the coral gardens of French Polynesia is like swimming in the Garden of Eden. The coral has been growing here for 500 million years. But this paradise could vanish by the end of this century. In our lifetime we may be cast out of the garden along with everything that swims within it.


The coral gardens of French Polynesia are extraordinary in color and diversity.   Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas


A clownfish hides in a bed of stinging anemones off the island of Mo’orea.   Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Tropical reefs have lost more than half of their reef-building corals in the past 30 years, according to a 2015 WWF report. It is a fact that since the beginning of the 20th century, sea surface temperatures have steadily increased. Coral polyps unable to cope with unusually warm temperatures become stressed and expel the colored microscopic algae living in their tissue. Without the algae the coral dies of starvation and what is left is a skeleton of white bleached rock.


The friendly eye of a pufferfish belies the fact that some species have a toxin called Tetrodotoxin, which can be 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide.   Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas


A Pacific Guineafowl Pufferfish, in its black phase, the jazz musician of reef fish.   Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas

There is hope, however, for coral in French Polynesia because of a concerted effort here to protect and manage marine areas. From the Marquesas to the Tuamotos and the Society Islands there are a series of UNESCO reserves, protected maritime landscapes, and regulated fishing and anchorage areas. And they are enforced. When I inadvertently dropped the anchor of Flying Fish in a patch of sand in a restricted area of the lagoon of Mo’orea, the maritime gendarmerie were quickly on the scene to suggest a different anchorage.


The flange of a Giant Pacific Clam undulates with iridescent color.   Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas

What can one solo traveller do to preserve this underwater Garden of Eden? Aside from the obvious (like dropping your anchor in the correct spot) the effort of awareness on all levels is essential. It is in that spirit that I offer these images of the coral gardens of French Polynesia.

For a compendium of reef awareness issues and programs log on to:

A pair of Blackwedged Butterflyfish swim in a shallow tidal pool reflecting the surface of the water.   Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas

The coral gardens of Taha’a are spectacular above and below the surface of the water.   Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Tahaa sunset bora

A small motu off the Polynesian island of Taha’a, with the caldera of Bora Bora at sunset.   Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Track the passage of Flying Fish here:

17 thoughts on “The Coral Gardens of French Polynesia

  1. Amazing photos Jeffrey!
    Snorkeling through the coral gardens in Taha’a, just gliding with the current, is one of my best memories. Although when we were there years ago, no one was checking where boats anchored. Very glad that’s changed.


  2. Jeff this is wonderful! The pictures are so good. Funny thing, you know the clown fish tucked into the coral? I tried something similar a few weeks ago with a beautiful white shell tucked into a bed of parsley in my herb garden.

    Sent from my iPad



  3. Jeffrey,
    Thank you so much for sharing your voyage. The photographs are truly amazing. I’m certain National Geographic will be calling.
    What a treat for you to have Lilly with you across the Pacific.
    I hope you were at anchor and the tide allowed the scene when you photographed Lilly holding onto the rudder. Absolutely amazing!
    Thanks again and safe passage on your voyage.
    P.S. I also hope we get get a handle on the reef viruses around beautiful Keys and world wide.


  4. Beautiful photography of an area that shows us what our reefs have/had the potential to be. Thank you for the thoughts of what we should be doing to keep the environment as beautiful and healthy as possible. How many times have we unknowingly dropped an anchor, or worse? You have such a good heart. Thank you for being our representative for the seafaring kingdom, above and below. You are a great ambassador!


  5. Jesus Johnson Jeffery, these shots are fantastic! Holly Cow! They bring up strong emotions for me that first trigger foul language that I use only for the most beautiful things. It’s not easy getting such shots and yet here they are. Remarkable. Thank you!


  6. Hey Jeffrey, You bring to life through writing and photography what is deadly if we don’t have our planet healthy resulting in we really don’t have anything. This correlates with our own personal health. Thanks for the voyage and the reason for wanting to be on the computer connecting to the greater good in things that matter! Astounding!!! Bobbie


  7. is it any wonder you are a mentor/hero to this reporter? had this not been an open forum, I would be peppering this response with copious amounts of expletives. I am, as usual, blown away by your vision, both figuratively and literally. when are we mere mortals gonna get to see you again, man????

    keep on rockin’, hermano mio!

    rob o.


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