Bora Bora

In Bora Bora, our team has been working since 2020 toward the creation of a locally Managed Marine Area. Over a six-month period scientists have led environmental and sociological surveys. In 2021, a new phase will be launched: local stakeholders will be consulted to spatially delineate the limits for the future rāhui site and to design its management rules.


inhabitants in 2017

38 km²

of land

110 km²

of lagoon

Bora Bora is located in the Society Archipelago (Leeward Islands), 250 kilometers northwest of Tahiti. The island, a vestige of a now collapsed volcano, is surrounded by a lagoon that communicates with the ocean through a single pass, or ava in Tahitian: the Teavanui pass. Famous for the beauty of its lagoon and its overwater bungalows, the island ranks among the top luxury tourism destinations in the world. Each year, it welcomes more than 100,000 international tourists, a traffic which represents more than half of the GDP generated by tourism in French Polynesia.

Tourism-oriented activities can represent a significant source of stress or pressure on natural resources and coral reefs; but the sector also represents an opportunity for sustainable development because of the economic benefits it can yield. For instance, local revenue generated by tourism – ever increasing since the 1960’s – has enabled Bora Bora to be one of the 10 Polynesian municipalities (out of 48) ensuring access to drinking water to the whole island’s population. It has also set up a unique wastewater treatment system in French Polynesia (including on motus – reef islets). Because the municipality has implemented a pioneering wastewater treatment system, it has been receiving the Blue Flag label every year over the last 15 years. This eco-label guarantees good water quality.

However, Bora Bora’s lagoon – which was considered as highly fish abundant in the 1970s – has experienced a significant drop in its fish stocks for several years. Local stakeholders indicate that reef fish have decreased both in size and abundance over the years.

Consequently, to assess the ecological state of Bora Bora’s coral reefs and marine resources and to try to identify potential drivers of change the team of the resource center dedicated to Rāhui in French Polynesia carried out, in 2020, several ecological and sociological surveys.


Assessing fishing efforts through roadside surveys

A roadside and social media survey has been led in Bora Bora from July to December 2020. It aimed to estimate (1) fish sales and market-oriented fishing effort (a proxy for fish stock) and (2) potential increase in informal revenue generating activities as a result of the Covid-induced economic crisis. To have a better understanding of fish flows and fishing effort in Bora Bora we initiated a monitoring protocol of public Facebook pages through which reef fish are sold or exchanged.

In parallel we have been conducting surveys with local inhabitants to estimated fish consumption: How often do people eat fish? What kind of fish (reef or pellagic)? Is fish bought locally or caught by a household member? We have also been interviewing fishers to better understand their fishing strategies as well as the habitats and areas they targeted the most.

Better known fishing in Bora Bora

In July and August 2020 a survey has been led to better understand local social organization, fishing practices, techniques and geography. Around 30 interviews (28 hours of recording) have been conducted with men and women to collect myths and legends, perceptions of the evolution of fishing practices evolutions, vernacular names of fish and place names in the lagoon, etc.

Place names (toponyms) can reveal information about bio-geographic or cultural characteristics and give valuable information about social and cultural rules (practices banned in some places for example), interest and role played by sites (fish nursery, lagoon spatial organization, etc.).

All interviews will be stored on an online linguistic platform (Anavevo/Paradisec), dedicated to the filing, archiving and consultation of oral recordings of speakers French Polynesian languages.

Assessing coral reef ecosystems

We have led a marine biodiversity monitoring to assess coral reef ecosystem ecological state. Results of analyses must help to design conservation and management strategies. We have worked on two different themes: (1) evolution of ecological state from 2006 to 2019 and (2) ecological and water quality monitoring in 2020. We studied fish and macro-invertebrates (e.g., lobster, crab etc…) densities and we described and qualified benthic coverage. We have also collected and analyzed data on coastline characteristics and evolutions, fish nursery localization as well as noise pollution.

Assessing effects of tourism on coral reef environment

From January to March 2020 we have led an investigation about the local effects of tourism on the lagoon environment. We aim to understand: (1) the role played by tourist-industry service providers in the protection of the coral reef ecosystem; (2) how access to the lagoon is organized across stakeholders and (3) how local heritage is promoted by local guides.
Through this survey we have collected information about potential conflicts of use between local stakeholders (fishers, services providers, NGOs’, etc.) as well as identified both informal and formal governance regulations and rules.


Based on the work carried out in 2020, we plan to conduct a consultation campaign with the main stakeholders of Bora Bora to:

  • consensually delineate the area of the future managed marine area or rāhui;
  • design an appropriate legal framework;
  • specify the future management rules at the rāhui scale, possibly create modulable rules according to sub-sectors within the rāhui;
  • design the governance of the project to establish the legitimacy of the project and guarantee its effectiveness as well as local compliance.