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December 02, 2017

Eeek! What the Heck is That?

Long spine Sea Urchins seemed to magically appear from the crevices of almost every rock, extremely venomous stonefish are great at camouflage and are everywhere just waiting for the fumbling reef explorer to step on them to release their paralyzing venom, moray eels lurk in many holes

MAC TERZICH, DVM, ACPV

Here I found myself in the lush tropical paradise of Tahiti, a favorite destination of newlyweds and vacationers. Although I was obviously not there to vacation, I was dazzled by the tropical wonders that surrounded me. A lush mountain was behind me and the clear blue sea in front, in between was a small but decently equipped facility set up to house clams and fish. It was my responsibility to get this new project jumpstarted!

After the usual obligatory detailed discussions we were off to exploring underwater. We decided at first that we’d get our feet wet by snorkeling around the lagoon. One thing we tend to forget, us land-based coral farmers, is the plethora of dangers that awaits us on a real reef. Since I don’t explore actual reefs daily, it took me a bit of getting use to the underwater landscape and all the many potential perils around! Long spine Sea Urchins seemed to magically appear from the crevices of almost every rock, extremely venomous stonefish are great at camouflage and are everywhere just waiting for the fumbling reef explorer to step on them to release their paralyzing venom, moray eels lurk in many holes with their teeth ready to grab a limb of an unsuspecting snorkeler, seemingly friendly Sea Turtles cruise around and love nipping at tubes, hoses, and such, and sharks are constant curious observers of your activities and ever ready to pounce. An over enthusiastic and inexperienced explorer can get in trouble fast in these areas!

"...friendly Sea Turtles cruise around and love nipping at tubes, hoses, and such, and sharks are constant curious observers of your activities and ever ready to pounce. An over enthusiastic and inexperienced explorer can get in trouble fast in these areas! "

Once underwater it quickly became apparent to me that the waters around Tahiti are not similar at all to the Solomons. In the Solomon Islands I saw lush reefs and lagoons filled with an enormous array of corals, so vast that one could see nothing but corals in every direction for as far as you could see. In contrast, there were no distinct reefs in the areas we explored around Tahiti, instead I saw the occasional rock outcropping that may have had a few Acropora or Pocillopora colonies. There was a fringing reef several hundred feet beyond his property, but the waves and strong currents prevented easy access to explore that area. I did see lots of interesting fish though! Many of them would be appropriate for the aquarium trade. Later that first night we discussed the possibility of setting up a fish collection station.

The next morning I awoke to a beautiful tropical sunrise and was ready to continue our discussions and explorations. So, I hopped into the shower to get ready for a full day. I was startled in the shower by a huge 12-inch centipede with long fangs, whoa! Many years earlier when I lived on St Kitts in the Caribbean I had been stung by the same type creature although much smaller. The sting produced extreme pain and sent me to a primitive local hospital to get an injection to stop the progression of numbing that was traveling up my leg. I didn’t want to go through that again! I carefully brushed aside my shower buddy and got out of that shower quickly!

We gathered some tanks to set up a fish system and visited a local veterinarian to procure some antibiotics in anticipation of our quarantine procedures for freshly caught fish. Then it was back in the water to explore for some clams, the real reason I was visiting. Unfortunately we didn’t see any clams in the area. I soon found out that very few clams existed around the island of Tahiti, but in some of the more remote islands of French Polynesia there were hundreds of millions of Tridacna maxima clams, the largest populations of them in the world! Since clam farming and collection was the focus of my trip, we immediately planned a trip to one of the outlying islands, Tubai.

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