• Alain Portal

Sad tourism: An invading new species harassing the Polynesian biodiversity

 

 

“Wild animals taming is the ultimate way of wildlife appropriation by the mass tourism industry.”

 

Since 2018, the approach of marine mammals in and around Polynesian lagoons and passes is strictly prohibited (Art. A. 2213-1-4 of the ‘Code de l’Environnement’ – “Research and approach for observation purposes or for recording videos or sounds of whales or any other marine mammals are strictly prohibited to everyone, whatever way of transportation used, in the lagoons, bays, passes and in a 1-kilometer radius centered on the axis of the passes”).

 

However, in Rangiroa, where the biggest diving center is about to put jetskis and aquascooters for rent nearby the bottlenose dolphins of Tiputa pass, and where most of the diving instructors spend half of their time explaining in their briefings how to touch and manipulate these animals (and the other half to do it!), nobody seemed to hear about the law.

 

But dolphins and other marine mammals are not the only creatures to be victimized by a global ‘Disneylisation’ of the Polynesian marine wildlife: according to a striking report given to the local Ministry of Tourism in 2016 and still remaining confidential since then, sharks, rays, moray eels and other fishes are exponentially used for the enjoyment of crowds in the Fenua (‘Polynesia’).

 

These animals, that are usually more shy than Rangiroa dolphins, are subject to regular feeding practices (which are against the law most of the time) to attract them on particular spots and get their cooperation. The ‘White Valley’ spot, located in Tahiti, is well known for its tiger shark feeding. These practices are prohibited in overall French Polynesia but this does not stop instructors to answer back, when they are questioned about feeding sharks, that there exists a mysterious “special authorization”. But Moorea, Bora-Bora, Rangiroa and most of the touristic islands are therefore standing as exceptions...

 

Finally, the best reward belongs to South Fakarava pass where, right within a Biosphere Reserve, regular grey sharks feeding frenzies are organized by divers whom, by confusing fishes with the strength of their torches, scare them away so they won’t be able to escape from sharks. A circus-like show that can be compared to a Roman arena show and goes against basic ecotourism principles supposed to teach about environment conservation by respecting nature and local populations. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Tourism keeps on proudly introducing French Polynesia as an exemplary ecotourism destination. But is it true ecotourism or a new form of “outdoor zoo” which is similar to ‘GREENWASHING’ practices that are frequently observed all around the world?

 

Such behaviour is far from being supported by everyone as shown by a recent petition against night dives in Fakarava south pass, that collected 300 signatures from the 800 persons living on the atoll. The document has been given to the local authorities, with no feedback so far...