Fakarava, Havaiki-te-araro, Havai'i or Farea is an atoll in the west of the Tuamotu group in French Polynesia. It is the second largest of the Tuamotu atolls. The nearest land is Toau, a coral atoll which lies 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) to the northwest.
Location in French Polynesia
|1,112 km2 (429 sq mi) (lagoon)
24.1 km2 (9 sq mi) (above water)
|60 km (37 mi)
|21 km (13 mi)
|35/km2 (91/sq mi)
The atoll is roughly rectangular and its length is 60 kilometres (37 miles) and its width 21 kilometres (13 miles). Fakarava has a wide and deep lagoon with a surface of 1,112 square kilometres (429 square miles) and two passes. The main pass to enter the lagoon, located in its north-western end, is known as Passe Garuae and it is the largest pass in French Polynesia; the southern pass is called Tumakohua. It has a land area of 24.1 square kilometres (9 square miles). Fakarava has 837 inhabitants; the main village is called Rotoava.
The Pōmare Dynasty originated here before ruling the island of Tahiti. The atoll was first mentioned by a European on 17 July 1820 by the Russian navigator Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, who gave it the name Wittgenstein Island. It was visited by the British sailor Ireland on 2 October 1831, who mentioned it under the same name, and then on 14 November 1835 by his compatriot Robert FitzRoy, as well as by the French navigator Jules Dumont d'Urville in September 1838.
In the 19th century, Fakarava became a French territory with a population of about 375 inhabitants, which developed a small production of coconut oil (about 7 to 8 barrels per year around 1860), but became, due to its geographical position and the seaport offered by its lagoon, one of the main centers of trade in this resource and of mother-of-pearl production. The atoll was evangelized by Honoré Laval, a Catholic priest in 1849: the Rotoava church was blessed in 1850 and the Tetamanu church, dating from 1874, was built in coral.
Fakarava is a rectangular atoll 60 km long and 25 km wide. It is the second largest atoll in the Tuamotu, after Rangiroa, with an area of 24.1 km2 and a lagoon of 1,121 km2. The atoll has two inland passes, one in the north and one in the south. The northern passage of Garuae is the largest in French Polynesia. It is very rich in marine fauna, with rays, manta rays, barracudas, groupers, turtles and dolphins. It is an important center of sport diving.
The main village is Rotoava, located to the northeast near the Garuae Passage. In the southern pass is the village of Tetamanu, former capital of the island and residence of the administrator of the Tuamotu during the 19th century. The total population was 806 at the 2012 census.
Fakarava is located 450 km northeast of Tahiti. Its lagoon is the second largest in French Polynesia (after Rangiroa) and covers 1,121 km2. It is accessible through two passes:
|Sources ISPF et Gouvernement de la Polynésie française.
The majority of the Atoll's population is Christian as a result of missionary activity by both Catholic and Protestant groups. The Catholic Church administers a religious building in Rotoava, the Church of Saint John of the Cross (Église de Saint-Jean-de-la-Croix) that depends on the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Papeete with headquarters in Tahiti. The church, as its name indicates, is dedicated to a Spanish mystic saint who founded the Order of the Discalced Carmelites (Ordo Fratrum Discalceatorum Beatissimae Mariae Virginis de Monte Carmelo).
Like all the other islands in the archipelago, Fakarava has some of the most pristine and undisturbed coral reef ecosystems in the world. The south pass of Fakarava has been protected since 2008 and is now home to the highest concentration of Grey reef sharks in the world with an estimated 700 sharks comprising the single school that inhabits the area. This is also one of the only reefs where sharks are fully protected and can be found in anything like their historical numbers.
Fakarava is developing a pearl farming activity – authorized on 400 ha (and fifty spat collection lines) in the northeastern part of the lagoon, near Rotoava – and sea cucumber fishing in the eastern part of the lagoon for export to Asia.
The atoll has an airfield with a runway 1,400 meters long, which allows the development of tourism in all the atolls attached to the commune of Fakarava. On average, it receives about 850 flights and between 25,000 and 30,000 Passengers per year, of which 20% are in transit, making it one of the busiest in French Polynesia.
The development of tourism, with the construction of a hotel, has increased the population in recent years. In addition to tourism around diving, the economy is based on copra mining and mother-of-pearl farming.
Gombessa 2, conducted in Fakarava in 2014, on the reproduction of marbled groupers of the species Epinephelus polyphekadion, in particular their gathering and behavior before and especially during the annual spawning of females at the exit of the Tumakohua pass (the one in the south of the lagoon) during the two full moons of June and July.
Gombessa 4, conducted in 2017, is a continuation of the previous one, and focuses on the unusual density of gray reef sharks (more than 700), in the same Tumakohua pass during the same period. The mission studied the social organization of sharks within a horde.
James Norman Hall describes his visit to Fakarava, and the prior visit of Captain Bligh to the atoll, in "The Tale of a Shipwreck," published 1934.