Rapa Expedition: Here Be Monsters!

In the time-honoured parlance of the sea, we are about to “slip lines,” and as these mooring lines begin to flow freely around the bollards on the dock there will be “let go all” which means we’re off—free to begin our seven-hundred-mile passage from Tahiti south to the remote island of Rapa Iti and its outlying group of rocky islets, Marotiri.

When we go to such remote places, we don’t always know what we’re going to see underwater but we do tend to have a good idea of the outline of things. This time though we’ve loaded up the bathymetry charts and where we’d usually see data instead we see glorious blank spaces. In the early days of sea charts spaces like this would be noted with a cautionary, “Here Be Monsters.”

Based on how remote Rapa and Marotiri are we’re expecting the area should be teeming with life, but we will only know once we arrive. We’re really getting the sense that what we will see there is all going to be seen for the first time. It’s the purest form of exploration, enhanced by sheer curiosity and excitement—the very reason that we are ocean explorers.

The Pristine Seas: Rapa team stands at dock in Tahiti with the Hanse Explorer, the vessel that will be their home for the next several weeks. (Photo courtesy Paul Rose)

The Purpose

Rapa couldn’t be a more obvious choice for a place to establish a Marine Protected Area: It fulfills a goal set by the French Government to protect 20 percent of French waters by the year 2020, it’s remote, and it’s currently unappealing to commercial fishing vessels. Most importantly, the people of Rapa themselves have decided that it’s what they want. Their sustainable practices and way of living could already serve as a model for ocean stewardship around the globe, but it’s adding this secondary layer of international protection that will ensure this place remains pristine for generations. I’ve been a diver for 44 years and I can barely describe how exciting it is to be part of the team helping to protect places like this.

The Team and Equipment

We have an international team of experts who are going to be working to the hilt for two weeks to ensure we get a comprehensive baseline of the marine environment around Rapa and Marotiri. We have scientists performing visual surveys of the fish, corals, and fauna, we have our pelagic mid-water camera team who will be recording high-definition records of the life below our divers, and then we have our drop-cameras, which we will deploy to the darkest depths to reveal the creatures that are too deep for any other technology to discover. Above the waves we have three camera-carrying mini-helicopters, and all of the action is being captured by the very best underwater and topside filmmakers.

All of these elements add up to create what will be the most comprehensive scientific assessment of this area ever performed. What we’re really hoping to see is a thriving environment teeming with life and big predators.

The Tricky Part

The weather forecast is interesting: We should have northerly winds for the first two days which will give us following seas but then we will be welcomed to the Rapan waters by 35 knots of wind from the southeast which will bring big seas and could make it impossible for us to enter the natural harbor at Ha’urei Bay. If we spent our lives waiting for perfect conditions we would get nothing done—so we’re leaving now and if in a few days we can’t get into Ha’urei Bay then we’ll anchor off the northwest Rapan coast and start our work from there.

There is a great atmosphere onboard and we can’t wait to get started. We’ll be posting updates daily—so please join our expedition to the most remote region of French Polynesia by keeping touch right here.


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The Pristine Seas expedition to Rapa is sponsored by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.

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Meet the Author
Paul Rose is an ardent explorer, television presenter, journalist, author, and Vice President of the Royal Geographical Society, and an Expedition Leader on the Pristine Seas team.