The Tahitian people living on the island of Huahine are getting quite irritated with the hordes of boaters who visit their community and regularly ignore the proper anchorage spots for their vessels. A news story last week in Tahiti Infos describes the environmental damage the boats cause and the reactions of the Tahitian people to the destruction.

A coral reef in French Polynesia
A coral reef in French Polynesia (Photo by Adam Reeder on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Matai Tereua, a resident of Huahine, explains to the reporter that the government has installed what in French are picturesquely called “corps morts,” which boaters use to tie up their yachts. The “dead bodies,” as a Wikipedia article explains, are heavy concrete pads placed on the sea floor to which buoys are cabled, so the boaters can then tie their crafts up to the buoys and not harm the coral reefs. Huahine, located in the Leeward Islands archipelago of French Polynesia, is extremely popular with boaters. It was where anthropologist Robert Levy did much of his research on Tahitian peacefulness, which resulted in his 1973 book Tahitians: Mind and Experience in the Society Islands.

The thrust of the news story last week is that a number of international boaters can’t be bothered with tying their vessels up properly. It is more convenient, and cheaper, to just use their anchors. The problem is that the use of anchors tends to tear up the coral, destroying the environment of the Huahine lagoon.

The Hawaiki Nui Va'a canoe race in the Society Islands, yachts filled with tourists in the background
The Hawaiki Nui Va’a canoe race in the Society Islands, yachts filled with tourists in the background (Photo by Bianca Henry from Bora Bora, Creative Commons license)

Tereua, a fisherman, points out that many boaters ignore the dead bodies and the provisions of the Huahine government; they just anchor their boats wherever is convenient. The heck with the natural environment. The situation gets especially severe when large numbers of boaters visit the Leeward Islands during a very popular canoe race called the Hawaiki Nui Va’a, a major cultural event of Huahine, Bora Bora, and other islands in French Polynesia.

Tatiana Faahu, the Deputy Mayor of Huahine in charge of tourism, said that the government has installed about 30 dead bodies in the lagoon. She added that boaters who wish to tie up are required to pay 1,500 francs per night (about U.S. $ 14.00), though that fee includes access to fresh water and the collection of waste by the municipality. She argues that the majority of boaters respect the regulations and that she and her staff are constantly trying to ensure that the environment is protected. But there are always those who will ignore the rules.

The news report concludes that yachting contributes a billion francs per year into the economy of French Polynesia. Some 400 or 500 boats are anchored in the islands and another 600 or so venture into the region each year—a financial windfall for the Tahitians. As with a number of other peaceful societies encountering the financial benefits of tourism, the Tahitians are confronting the environmental downsides of hosting hordes of visitors.