Each July, the Fakarava channel in French Polynesia’s Tuamotu archipelago hosts a spectacular event. The yearly marbled grouper spawning is in itself an incredible spectacle, but along with it comes an opportunity to see thousands of grey reef sharks, all there to feed on the grouper.
What is the marbled grouper spawning?
Featured on BBC’s latest landmark underwater series “Blue Planet II,” the coral reefs of French Polynesia host one of the ocean’s rarest spectacles. Up to 1,000 grey reef sharks fill the Fakarava channel, the second largest atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago in search of one thing: marbled grouper, who have come to spawn. Docile and shy during the day, the sharks’ behavior becomes unpredictable and erratic as darkness falls and the hunt begins, making for an extremely complex, yet rewarding, dive.
When does it take place?
The sharks are here to feed on marbled grouper as they spawn during the full moon of July every year. Blink and you will miss the event — the feeding frenzy occurs for under an hour that night when tens of thousands of groupers lay their eggs and sperm in the water column. While there may be over 15,000 groupers on one day, there can be five the next.
While it is extremely difficult for divers to witness the marbled grouper spawning due to the short timeframe, diving in the Fakarava channel throughout the year is nonetheless sensational. This location offers some of the best possible viewing of a flourishing shark populations that is unlike anywhere else on the globe.
How can I see it?
A handful of dive operators run trips from these remote atolls and there are several liveaboards as well. The liveaboards will pass by the channel as they operate throughout the area, often diving the Fakarava as part of their package.
Recently declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Fakarava is an atoll with two passes that connect to an expansive lagoon. The northern pass is famed for its strong currents that rip into the channel, bringing nutrient-rich waters that attract numerous shark species including tiger, grey reef, hammerhead and silky to name a few.
What qualifications do I need?
Due to this complexity of “pass” diving, wherein divers ride a strong current into and across the pass into the lagoon, the northern pass of Fakarava is best for those who have an advanced qualification and above and are comfortable diving in currents.
The more tranquil lagoon of Fakarava is a sensational area for all qualifications of divers, especially as the currents are calmer yet ocean life is still plentiful.
Closer to the canyon strata large schools of snapper and barracuda roam, and a lucky few may encounter dolphins and eagle rays in the warm, clear waters. The water temperature rarely dips below 80 F (27 C), a luxury for many divers as they only need a 3 mm wetsuit.
How to get there
Most international flights fly to Tahiti via Australia, Europe or the United States. Passengers can transfer in Papeete to the additional 70-minute flight to Rangiroa.