The Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora offers complimentary snorkeling tours to guests. // © 2010 John Russo
It pained us to admit that our weeklong stay in Tahiti was nearly over, but we had a few more hours before our return flight and, darn it, we were going to make the most of it. So, we suited up and grabbed our masks and snorkels in preparation for a complimentary snorkeling tour offered by our hotel, the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora
The onsite marine biologist and our tour guide, Oliver Martin, set us at ease with a brief safety talk and an introduction to the types of marine life we could expect to see on our tour. Because the resort’s Lagoon Sanctuary connects with the larger lagoon of Bora Bora, there is a constant ebb and flow and, on any given day, snorkelers could find themselves face to face with sting rays, puffer fish, parrot fish and even sea turtles. The resort’s manmade coral reefs have also attracted long-term guests, including sea urchins, clams, sea anemones and sea cucumbers, and there was no shortage of underwater sights on our snorkel tour.
Almost immediately, we spotted a small school of black-and-white-striped damselfish gathering around a chunk of manmade coral. Nearby, yellow-tailed butterfly fish were feeding on sea anemones as nearly a dozen black, spiny sea urchins huddled together beneath a coral awning.
“What we have done here is created an ecosystem. We know that certain types of coral will attract and nurture certain types of fish and marine life — we have created our own coral gardens that will do just that,” explained Martin.
Our guide also encouraged us to touch several of the creatures, which was an easier exercise for some snorkelers rather than others, particularly after Martin coaxed an octopus cyanea (also known as a day octopus) out of its cave-like home with a handful of fish food. One person in our group, a guest from Brazil, had never been snorkeling before that day, and she wasn’t comfortable enough to approach the octopus and its intimidating tentacles just yet.
The octopus, however, was probably more frightened of us, seven gawkers, hovering over it. We watched as the octopus swam away from us, gliding gracefully above the sandy floor and changing its color from reddish brown to a shade of white sand. It anchored itself to a beige cluster of coral, forming a ball, and seemed to take on the characteristics, even the texture, of the coral to which it was attached. (We later discovered that this species hunts in the daytime and, therefore, has become a master of camouflage.)
Martin reached for the octopus, ever so nonchalantly, and let the creature coil its tentacles around his hand, an act he hoped would encourage us to do the same. It took a bit more convincing but, soon, a few of us shook hands, albeit brief, with the octopus. I timidly extended my hand and brushed the underside of one of the octopus’ tentacles. As soon as I felt the suction-cup effect of its suckers, I shrieked and instinctively pulled back my hand in fear.
“Don’t worry, you guys. The octopus is just trying to taste you, and it knows you aren’t food now,” assured our guide.
I had to giggle because, despite Martin’s attempt to calm our nerves, just about everyone let out a yelp or a shrill squeal when making contact with our new, eight-armed friend.
Time slipped by without us realizing it, and our hour-long tour came to a close all too quickly. But one thing was certain — there was so much more to be discovered here. And looking back, our deepest regret was that we waited until the last day of our trip to explore the resort’s Lagoon Sancturary. The silver lining of our oversight was that it has given us all the more reason to plan for a return visit and see if we could make a few more unlikely friends under the sea.