French Polynesian fisherman fears the Champ de rose coral reef site that has been opened to the eyes of the world will close due to attention brought to it

A coral reef site in pristine condition has been opened to the eyes of the world in French Polynesia by a series of photos for UNESCO taken by Alexis Rosenfeld.

It has since been publicised by news outlets around the world and falsely titled “a new discovery”, however, this is simply not the case.

Scientist in charge of the research at Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) in French Polynesia – Criobe Letitia Hedouins said what is special about the site is not only its existence but its size and condition.

“There has actually been a miscommunication among media outlets around the world. There is in fact discovery and that is of the excellent condition of the reef.

“It is really the size of the site as well as the age of the corals that make this site so special. The site spent the last two decades without any human activity so that means it is good news.”

Local fisherman Dell Lamartinère who was interviewed by La 1ère french media said he fears the Champ de rose will close due to more attention brought to it.

“When there is too much fishing and too much attention on a spot, it starts to have restrictions come into place and then us professional fisherman we can not fish here anymore”

The site is the continuation of the coral reef that surrounds the peninsula. There is a platter that is between 30 to 60 metres which is where the site is located.

It extends throughout three kilometres in length 30 and 65 metres wide and at the depth of 35 to 70 metres.

Some of these giant corals are said to measure around two metres in diameter.

Hedouin said the reason why coral is in such good condition is thanks to the depth at which it resides.

“The whitening is caused when coral is exposed to strong thermal anomaly and therefore this makes the corals closer to surface a lot more affected by higher temperatures caused by climate change than those ones at 30 or more metres in depth.

“What’s also interesting is that between period of 2003 and 2006 we had an invasion of carnivorous starfish that ate all the coral around the areas, however, it is so surprising that this particular area was not affected.”

Hedouin and other scientists at CNRS – Criobe will keep the site monitored to see how it is affected as temperatures across the globe rise.

“There is also more study to be done on its biodiversity that keeps the shape of its roses, which is not the same as the biodiversity from corals closer to the surface. Therefore, there is an immense amount of questions that we still have.

“The more we explore sites like this one in French Polynesia, the more we will be able to find other zones such as this one. We only have one vision of the coral reef where the majority of scientific studies are only in zones between 20 to 30 metres.”

The site is not a protected one and is not up to scientists to have a say on the protections of the reefs but up to authorities, said Hedouin.

“There’s already been discussion on why protect it at all? It has already protected itself for such a long time already. So these are discussion that will be left to interest of French Polynesia.”

This story was written by Jan Kohout, originally published at RNZ Pacific on 01 February 2022.

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