Biosphere reserve? My arse…

We sailed to Aratika a few days ago, sailed along the western outer reef (the biosphere protected zone) and were already disappointed to see only very few birds in the air. We arrived with easterly winds and after going through the pass, we altered course to sail across the lagoon to the SE corner (close-hauled pointing as close to the wind as possible), when a boat with locals came after us. They told us that ‘everything down there’ was off limits as part of the biosphere reserve, but were not specific. Asked whether we were allowed to anchor along the eastern coast they said yes, anchoring was okay, but we were not allowed to sail across the lagoon. Instead we’d have to go directly east and then along the coast. Told that we’d have to motor against the wind instead of environmentally-friendly sailing there, they said it was the law. Asked what exactly we would harm by sailing through, they didn’t have an answer either. We assumed they were protecting the water from being run over by boats. Hmmm.

We motored to the east as requested and then sailed southwards along the eastern shore, which is marked as ‘transitional zone’ on the biosphere map, which suggests happy co-existing of humans and nature. We found a few patches with shrubs among the palmtrees, some boobies and terns, but not many as there are houses on almost every motu.

Today we sailed back up to the northern shore to visit the townhall (mairie) and ask for details. The newly elected mairess welcomed us super-friendly and was astounded that we wanted to pay our visitor’s tax (apparently we’re the first sailboat to volunteer–only about 10 boats come here per year…). We asked about the biosphere and together with the nice police man she explained that the southwestern coast (with a few small motus) was strictly off limits. For everybody? Yes, for everybody–except of course for locals, when they want to have a picnic or so. Aha, just a picnic? No, of course they can go fishing there as well, just not too many fish. Aha. So could we go there as well if we promised not to fish or take anything (we don’t even HAVE a speargun). Noooo, sailboats are not allowed there. Hmmm.
What about sailing through the lagoon? The map showed only a narrow fringe off the coast off limits and part of the lagoon in a different colour (the same colour and zone category as the ocean between the atolls of the Fakarava commune…). No, that’s forbidden. Aha, and why? There are many bommies, oh and many pearl farm collectors (plastic girlandes where larvae of pearl oysters are supposed to attach themselves).

So summarising you can say that in this biosphere reserve everything is allowed for the locals and wildlife is protected from the handful of rather harmless sailboats that make it here. We suspect that the biosphere lady (yes, the one who shied us away on day 1) didn’t want anybody to see the pearl farm buoys in the reserved zone. Oh and we asked: her family owns the huge fish traps in the pass and they export fish to Tahiti. Getting a biosphere status seems like more of a scam to get funding. We were also told that anchoring was forbidden in the lagoon (for sailboats) and referred to the big, yellow buoys that were installed one (or two) years ago (14 well made and certainly expensive buoys, 2 next to the W pass, 5 in front of the village, 4 in the east pass area and a few more down the eastern coast). We motored over to the NE corner after visiting the mairie and are now on one of those buoys–so far out in the lagoon that we have 0 protection from the wind and white caps around the boat. Hmmm.

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