The Avatoru pass, Rangiroa
My second dive was expected to be much calmer in nature since diving the Avatoru pass is notably less “sporty” than the Tiputa dive. The site is said to be known for 2 things: the presence of the “tapete” or Silvertip shark and the gigantic shoals or “balls” of Bluefin jacks.
Our divemaster, Stephanie Hernandez, a slim and sporty divemaster, conducted our briefing during a petrol stop for our zodiac diveboat. The stop was not too far from the Avatoru reef located on the other end of the atoll. With the aide of diagrams and specific instructions, our little divegroup had a set plan. Certain specific instruction as to the wildlife were at hand: The plan was to try and get the attention of the “tapete” by clicking 2 stones together since this species was known to rise up from the depths to investigate. Another was to observe the bluefin jackfish “ball” and our goal was not to “break it up” with our bubbles. Anyway, it was the plan. After picking up another load of Japanese divers, we piled into the zodiac to brave our second dive.
Rangiroa Dive Center
Descending from the outside of the reef at around 85 feet, we again skirted to reef rim. Immediately, we observed a gigantic shoal of African pompano jackfish… amazing silver colored jacks with dorsal fins elongated by long silver filaments that giving the fish a rather fairy tale look. It was even more impressive seeing a whole school of them! What a sight to behold. Stephanie then proceeds to her “shark call”, however in vain. Not long after, we saw 2 manta rays glide past us in the distance.
Suddenly, we sighted a dark mass that seemed to be working its way toward us. What could it be…not some unknown sea creature we didn’t expect? I had this sense of foreboding of the unknown creeping up on me. As our little divegroup gingerly finned closer…we then could slowly make out the mass. It was the famous “ball” of jackfish.
Calling it a shoal was rather an understatement since its immense presence monopolized our attention for a good quarter of an hour, heeding our pre-dive instructions as not to disrupt the jackfish “ball” by getting too close.
“ As our little divegroup gingerly finned closer… we then could slowly make out the mass. It was the famous “ball” of jackfish. ”
Diver bubbles seemed to dissipate the ball. Our Japanese colleague, however, seemed too excited for words and had his photographic craving get the better of him. He went under the ball to photograph it – and as expected, the “ball” split in 2. There was a moment of fish panic as an explosion seemed to occur. Eventually, the fish fell back into their ranks and reformed, this time in 2 less imposing masses. Both masses still seemed quite consequential but the whole wonder of it dissipated along with our enthusiasm. As we carried on, we saw a turtle foraging among the Pocillopora coral. Stephanie spies the tailend of a sailfish hightailing it out of the area…probably in pursuit of prey. We turned a corner to the left, as we skirted the reef, and leveled off at around 20 feet and purposely stayed shallow. The sun shone on the colors of the reef and brought a totally different dimension to the underwater life around us.
Unlike other reviews of Avatoru that were less than glorious, the reef that day seemed to be as beautiful a sight as one could hope for in a dive. Ok, not the classic Rangi drift dive but the pocillopora and staghorn corals and their inhabitants were a photographers dream. Huge marbled groupers, Picasso and Titan triggerfish, schools of paddletail snappers, myriad species of soldierfish, butterfly fish in bright yellow, blue neon damsels and a school of yellow margined snappers hovered in a cloud. We saw another sea turtle in the distance swim away in the sunlight.
During our safety stop, I looked out into the blue. It always scares me a little not knowing what I may see…Until we surface…nothing out of the ordinary… the undersea horizon seems clear…which is rassurring. Nevertheless, it seemed like we already had enough excitement for one day. I feel like a page in a Hemingway novel of the old man and the sea. Avatoru left me awed, reflective and extremely lucky to be a diver!
© Photos : G.LeBacon, V.Truchet, S.Girardot, G. Lecoeur