The south pass into the lagoon of Fakarava is popular with dive tourists. Reef sharks hang out in all passes we’ve seen in the Tuamotus, but for some unknown reason the pass of Fakarava is teeming with grey reef sharks (apparently 200-300 live in the area). You see some of them while snorkelling, but most of them are deeper down, so it really makes sense to go scuba diving here. This morning we sailed down to the pass, got our dive gear ready and headed to the pass with our friends from SY Pakia Tea (www.planet-ocean.at) for a drift dive.

We knew that the current would be coming in at this time of the day, so we took the dinghy out through the pass, jumped in and went down to 20 m with Sonja while Tom kindly stayed in the dinghy to follow us and pick us up back in the lagoon. With this convenient arrangement we were free to enjoy the dive. Using the gentle current we slowly swam along, watching swarms of colourful surgeon- and butterfly fish lingering over healthy-looking coral formations, bold trigger fish biting off chunks of staghorn coral, majestic napoleon fish patrolling their territory, groupers gazing out from protruding coral and then close to the drop-off into the deeper channel the reason why we were diving: big groups of grey reef sharks gliding effortlessly through the current with a few white-tip reef sharks mingling with them. During the day the sharks are resting after a night of hunting and look rather passive, but the numbers and proximity are still impressive.

It’s funny how scared we used to be of sharks. As a kid the thought of some big creature lurking under the surface made me hectically look down while swimming in the Adriatic–probably we’re a generation traumatised by the ‘Jaws’ series… After spending so much time in the water with sharks here in French Polynesia we have lost that fear, enjoy the company of curious reef sharks that follow us around on snorkelling trips and are always excited when we glimpse a bigger shape–sometimes a shy lemon shark at the barrier reef, sometimes a silvertip in a pass, sometimes a big, but lazy nurse shark having a nap on the bottom. Sharks are an important part of the eco-system, but in many areas they have been wiped out by fishermen to get rid of competition, to sell their fins on the Asian market or simply to keep the lagoon ‘safe’. Gamefishing for trophies is also popular…Fortunately in French Polynesia they are still plentiful.

Of course there are species of sharks that would send us quickly up and into the dinghy: meeting a big tiger shark or bull shark would be scary, but in a normal situation there still should be no danger. Accidents with sharks usually happen when people go swimming in areas that are known to have large populations of dangerous shark species (e.g. Australia or South Africa), or while spear fishing when fishblood and squiggling fish attract sharks. During our numerous encounters wish sharks we have never met an aggressive specimen.

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