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December 04, 2017

Off to Remoteness

A short flight on Air Tahiti Nui airlines brought us to this picturesque little outpost. There we stayed at the home of James, a local fisherman my partner had known for years. More discussions and some meals later, including a very colorful parrotfish dinner, we were off to explore the local waters the next day.

MAC TERZICH, DVM, ACPV

Finding that few if any clams were present in the waters immediately around the island of Tahiti, my partner and I were on our way to Tubai, a more remote island in the heart of the major clam populations in French Polynesia. A short flight on Air Tahiti Nui airlines brought us to this picturesque little outpost. There we stayed at the home of James, a local fisherman my partner had known for years. More discussions and some meals later, including a very colorful parrotfish dinner, we were off to explore the local waters the next day.

Reefs in this part of French Polynesia are quite different than reefs in many other regions of the world. The water was very cool, actually cold, in the high 60s! The occasional rock outcropping was encrusted with many clams near the surface just 2-4 feet below. Each rock structure had some corals such as colorful Acropora near the surface in full sunlight and other types of corals lower in less light, with more colorful LPS type corals well under overhangs and within small crevices and caves. The clams were well embedded within the rock and out competed the corals for priority near the surface. One outcropping was a massive mound about the size of a school bus and then another was seen several hundred feet further away. These were each like individual reefs unto themselves and not one large continuous vast reef.

In a ritual sacrifice to the gods, James, our companion and guide in the area, dove down and ripped a large maxima clam from the rocks and brought it to the surface where he proceeded to ceremoniously open it and eat it raw.

"In a ritual sacrifice to the gods, James, our companion and guide in the area, dove down and ripped a large maxima clam from the rocks and brought it to the surface where he proceeded to ceremoniously open it and eat it raw. "

One thing I’ve learned on these adventures is as an outsider you have to be open and understanding to local customs and rituals, many folks in these remote areas of the world have some practices we may find strange, but I guess a westerner coming to their land wanting to buy stuff that grows in the backyard, the reef, they might find just as strange!

With hammer and chisel in hand we all snorkeled around the rocks to find some nice clams to collect.  Many were too small to collect since local laws prohibited the collection of clams smaller than 4.5 inches in an effort to protect breeding populations of clams from being decimated by local divers collecting them for food. And unfortunately, many clams were too large for our use in the aquarium trade, many being 10-12 inches.  Finding clams in the correct size range that were colorful enough was definitely a challenge. Once a good specimen was found it took great effort to hold myself underwater just the few feet below the surface where most clams live, keeping myself in the same spot due to the extremely strong currents (dispelling the commonly held misconception that clams don’t like lots of flow), and at the same time chiseling away at solid limestone rock to carefully chip out the clam without damaging it’s delicate foot. 

I was successful in collecting about 50 clams while my partner in the same period of time had collected a couple hundred, but he had been doing this for a while already in preparation of my arrival he had explored and collected some clams. James, our guide, had tried to collect some clams, but gave up after attempting just one! It seems that as a traditional fisherman he was not used to this underwater type of collection using a hammer, chisel, and dealing with all the potential perils. I didn’t feel so bad now, being an out of shape westerner I did pretty well in my first attempts, but have to admit I did tear a few clam’s feet. My partner was much more skilled and proficient at this delicate and tedious business. Once again, I was gaining more respect for all that goes into the collection of animals for our tanks. None of this is simple or easy, but as hobbyists we often forget about the original collection of many of the animals in our care.

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