Sea turtles can be found all over the world, but they have a special significance in The Islands of Tahiti. The honu as it is called in Tahitian, is a venerated animal, considered sacred in French Polynesia. Distressingly, these beautiful, harmless creatures of the sea are now in danger of extinction.
There are seven species of sea turtles in the world: Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley, Olive Ridley and Flatback. Five of these species are found in the waters of French Polynesia. Sea turtles are sacred animals, venerated by the Polynesian people. They represent a path to the afterlife, helping souls on the passage to eternal peace. The two most common species in The Islands of Tahiti are the green and the hawksbill turtles. You’ll almost certainly encounter them if you go scuba diving or snorkeling in the Tuamotu Islands of Rangiroa and Tikehau, or in the lagoons of Moorea and Bora Bora.
The sacred sea turtle
The sea turtle has been an important symbol in Polynesian culture for many centuries. The honu, as it is called in Tahitian, is considered to be a sign of good luck and longevity. It represents wisdom, peace, protection and the balance of nature. Sea turtles are also considered to be the guardians of the oceans and the coral reefs, symbolizing health and ecological balance. They are an important part of the mana, the sacred force of The Islands of Tahiti. In Tahitian mythology, they are said to bring peace to the spirits of the dead.
Representations of the honu can be found in the handicraft, tattoos and legends of The Islands of Tahiti. Their image can be found on tapa cloth, sculptures and engravings and the sea turtle design in a tattoo is used to symbolize protection and good fortune for the wearer, or respect for the environment. A sea turtle was even one of the characters in the Disney film, Moana. Everyone is fascinated and enthralled by an encounter with sea turtles during a diving or snorkeling session in the lagoons of The Islands of Tahiti. If you would like to do something to help protect and preserve these truly wonderful creatures, contact the association Te Mana O Te Moana or visit the Bora Bora Turtle Center.
Sea turtles, an endangered species
The numbers of sea turtles living in the waters of The Islands of Tahiti has decreased alarmingly over the years, due to illegal fishing, the destruction of their marine habitat, and the pollution of the oceans. Fortunately, there are now several local associations that are committed to the preservation and protection of these wonderful creatures.
Local fishermen work in close collaboration with conservation groups to protect the nesting sites of the sea turtles. Beach cleaning operations help to keep the sites free of flotsam and jetsam, especially plastic, which can be an insurmountable obstacle for the hatchlings. The association Te Mana O Te Moana organizes public awareness campaigns and eductaional projects to inform about the plight of these beautiful creatures. Based in Tahiti, they have opened a clinic where injured sea turtles are cared for and then released back into their natural environment. The Bora Bora Turtle Center is also committed to the care and protection of the sea turtles in our waters.