INFORMATION ON RANGIROA:
Rangiroa Atoll is located in the northwestern part of the Tuamotu Archipelago. With a lagoon area of over 1,400 km2, it is also one of the largest atoll in the world. With a population of just over 3000 residents, life is still quite wild despite the presence since the 70s of a runway and the development of the island based on tourism.
Rangiroa is located about 350 km northeast of Tahiti, French Polynesia’s main island. At its maximum size, the lagoon is 80 km long and 32 km wide, with an area of land of almost 8000 hectares divided into groups of islets or “motu”. Two large passes (Big holes in the reef barrier) north of the atoll delimit the Avatoru motu, which concentrates most of the population and where the 2,100 meters long runway is located. The two main villages are Avatoru and Tiputa, and the Avatoru motu is populated on almost its entire length (10km). The main activities are tourism (hotels, boarding houses, providers of water sports), pearl culture, fishing, copra and territorial and municipal administration which is growing rapidly.
Probably occupied around the tenth century AD, Rangiroa had formerly several villages terei, Fenuaroa, Otepipi, Tevaro, Avatoru and Tiputa near which were found several “marae” (ancestral cemeteries) and dozens of cultural places.
The traditions indicate a great cataclysm, probably a tidal wave which occurred around 1560 and which destroyed the human settlements of the western part of the atoll. In the seventeenth century, Rangiroa created important relationships with other islands of the northern Tuamotu Archipelago and the Society Archipelago. The expansion of social, economic and religious life is attested by the remains of large maraes and villages located near the passes.
Around 1770, this state of prosperity was abruptly interrupted.
Discovered in 1616 by Le Maire and Schouten, visited by Roggeven in 1722, Rangiroa saw the first Europeans settled, the Catholic missionaries in 1851.
Rangiroa has benefited from the economic and urban growth of Tahiti in the 1950s. Its farmers were supplying large quantities of copra. With the construction of the runway, tourism has gradually become an essential activity.
Open to the ocean by two great passes and many channels, the lagoon can be considered as an oasis lost in the vast Pacific. The tropical fauna is very rich and colourful and develops itself harmoniously in an environment exclusively of coral origin. The outer reef slope, highly indented, continually beaten by the waves, rapidly sinks into the depths of the ocean. These low islands seem to pop up and float on the ocean and are characterized by the absence of continental shelf. The fringing reef of fifty meters width of average represents a barrier that is continuously hit by ocean waves. In fact, the entire island is constituted of coral fragments, the smallest st
one is for example a small piece of eroded Porites or a fragment of Hermit Crab shell! The first plants came very quickly and are very characteristic of these islands, like highly resistant shrubs to saline conditions and calcareous soil. Further inland, the highest part of the island does not exceed 3 meters above sea level, sometimes with small lagoons of brackish water and a very lush vegetation consisting of coconut trees, the highest of the island, and various other trees. On the lagoon side, the sand or gravel beach is a few meters wide, sometimes dotted with small shrubs. The bottom of the lagoon has a very gentle slope, with occasional blocks of coral refuge to many small animals. The deepest zone of the lagoon does not exceed 35 meters, but this vast salt lake can be very messy and have a short swell when the southeast wind is forced.
Oasis in this huge ocean, this lagoon is packed with a flora and a fauna rich and varied. Characteristic of the tropics, life is colourful and shimmering. Punctuated by current changes in the passes, the lagoon water is constantly renewed, carrying to the Ocean the residues of the day of all this teeming wildlife. Moreover, the ocean water that penetrates regularly provides oxygenation and consequent renewal of lagoon waters. Coral reefs, planted here and there in the sandy lagoon represent areas of intense life. Besides the many fish that find a refuge or a source of food, the majority of the flora and fauna of the lagoon is focused around coral blocks. Among the fauna, shells are in great numbers, buried in sand or attached to the coral. It is the way the pearl oysters from Polynesia, the black lip pintadine or Pincatada margaritifera develops itself.
The bottom of the lagoon consists of one section of sandy parts that seem completely lifeless and other areas of coral blocks that are home to an exuberant life. Passes are also very distinctive as a meeting place between a lagoon wildlife and pelagic fauna, consisting of the larvae of certain reef fish but also many species of pelagic fish (tuna, wahoo), elasmobranches (sharks and rays) and mammals (dolphins). The outer slopes of the passes offer amazing diving spots and Rangiroa is known worldwide as one of the most beautiful diving locations.