April 19, 2023
On April 22, 1970, a senator from the state of Wisconsin organized events to raise awareness about environmental concerns. And in 1971, half a world away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the archipelagos of French Polynesia were working to set up marine protected areas throughout the region.
The lush lagoons of French Polynesia; here with Bora Bora’s Mount Otemanu in the distance
More than half a century later, Earth Day, as we now know it, is acknowledged in 174 countries around the world. In French Polynesia today, marine sanctuaries covering its entire waters are now under national jurisdiction for marine mammals and sharks, with some areas receiving international protection. Fakarava’s atolls (in the Tuamotus) are listed as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve, a designation that combines the social and natural sciences with a view to improving human livelihoods and safeguarding natural and managed ecosystems. And Moorea’s lagoon is recognized by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance; a Ramsar site (so named for the UNESCO-led convention hosted in Ramsar, Iran, on February 2, 1971) is identified as being of significant value not only for the country or region in which it is located, but for humanity as a whole.
Moorea’s lagoon is known for having one of the world’s best coral reef systems
As American novelist and environmental champion Wendell Berry so poignantly wrote, “The earth is what we all have in common.” Indeed.
Of course, at Paul Gauguin Cruises we have a special affinity for French Polynesia. The region’s astounding beauty and biodiversity is backed up with some pretty impressive statistics: 118 islands scattered over more than 1,600 square miles; 84 listed atolls comprising 20% of the world’s atolls; and home to more than 5,800 miles of coral reef ecosystems.
French Polynesia’s waters are home to 21 shark species and 176 different corals
As the longest continually operating cruise ship in French Polynesia—the m/s Paul Gauguin was purpose-built to navigate these waters—the ship’s staff and crew have developed deep personal relationships with the locals in all the communities we visit. These long-standing ties translate to authentic and meaningful experiences for our guests… making every day “earth day” when exploring and learning about these fabled islands.
The Fakarava biosphere is known for its diverse marine life, unique habitats, and cultural heritage preservation (photo courtesy of Jim Winter)
Excursions weave the cultural with the natural, where education is experienced rather than taught. Think exploring Bora Bora’s lagoon in an outrigger canoe with expert-led stops for snorkeling a coral garden, seeing stingrays in shallow water, and observing black-tip reef sharks. Or discovering Fakarava’s biosphere on a journey to its famed South Pass and remote Tetamanu islet. You might consider embarking on a whale-watching expedition from Moorea during the humpback breeding season—the educational, eco-tour observes the whales in their natural environment.
Seasonal visitors: humpback whales migrate to French Polynesia from July – November to breed
“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future.” ~ John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States
A strong sense of cultural pride and environmental protection is instilled early on
In 2012, a group of young Marquesan students voiced their desire to look after a marine area near their school. Both school administrators and community leaders responded with gusto, enlisting environmental groups for additional support, and thus began French Polynesia’s region-wide establishment of Educational Managed Marine Areas (EMMAs). Based on three pillars—understanding, sharing, and managing—an EMMA is a small coastal area a few miles wide, managed in a participatory educational and eco-friendly way by primary school students. In place throughout all of French Polynesia, the initiative inspires young people to learn how to protect their marine environments.
Environmental education: a pillar of our complimentary program for kids and families
This same passion for empowering youth with an understanding and appreciation of the world around us is a hallmark of The Gauguin’s Moana Explorer Program available on summer and holiday sailings. Created in partnership with Te mana o te moana (the South Pacific Marine Education and Conservation Foundation), children ages 7 to 15 are invited to participate in naturalist-led, hands-on activities. Experiences include visiting a sea turtle care center, snorkeling pristine reefs, learning about water pollution and its effect on the environment, exploring volcanic mountains, discovering archaeological sites and more. The complimentary program encourages family involvement too, creating special memories for all involved as they learn about the islands, marine ecosystems, and Tahiti’s unique culture in a way that doesn’t quite feel like “learning” at all.
Moorea’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center rescues green, hawksbill, Olive Ridley, and loggerhead turtles
All of us at Paul Gauguin Cruises are honored to call one of the most beautiful places on Earth our home. We share the French Polynesians’ deep respect for their ecosystem, which drives our activities both on and off The Gauguin. Come explore with us soon!