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Fakarava Atoll: Life Underwater in the Pacific and the Bay

Despite all the time sailors spend on the surface, which is where a sailboat is meant to be, we’re always curious about what’s going on beneath our keels. We avoid reefs while sailing, but they’re also a destination for diving. The dramatic ebb and flow of climate news above sea level heightens our concern for events below the surface.

Bruce Balan on the Cross 40 trimaran Migration recently sent in a couple of photos from Fakarava Atoll, where he reported, “We are at the south pass of Fakarava for the grouper spawning. Absolutely amazing the number of fish that gather! Windy and a bit rough conditions, but worth it.” Did reduced traffic during the pandemic help replenish stocks?

Fakarava Atoll
South Pacific cruising destinations have come back to life for cruisers, and undersea life continues to amaze.
© 2023 Alene D. Rice & Bruce Balan

Pacific Puddle Jump cruisers have crossed the pond to the Marquesas, and many are headed to the upcoming Tahiti Moorea Sailing Rendez-vous, July 21–24. Boats are on the move, harbors are loosening up, and reef diving beckons more cruisers west. It’s all possible as the South Pacific has reopened to cruising after grinding to a halt during the pandemic.

Fakarava Atoll
The grouper were looking good during Bruce and Alene’s recent visit.
© 2023 Alene D. Rice & Bruce Balan

Closer to home, we were walking the docks Sunday, looking at the exposed rocks during the morning’s very low tide. We suddenly noticed there were absolutely zero crabs tucking themselves into the breakwater, right where our kids used to give them futile chase 20 years ago. Where are the crabs? Is this a normal cycle of nature, or have these quick creatures disappeared for some other reason? Did the many seals and sea lions we saw on the docks in Ayala Cove eat them? Is there a new predator in town?

The breakwater is a perch for great blue herons and black-crowned night herons, and there are lots more pelicans around. Are the crabs a victim of overfishing by birds, or do our untrained eyes not know the right season to be looking?

Where are the crabs?
It’s hard to spot what’s missing, but these rocks used to be covered with crabs.
© 2023 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

In the wake of the 2023 closure of California salmon fishing, the Golden Gate Salmon Association has called out legislators to rebalance water flows and restore the freshwater flows to rivers to allow the salmon fishery to recover. It’s hard to know how all these things might be related, but the ongoing shocks to the earth’s ecosystem appear more dramatic than ever. Have you noticed any changes. for good or bad?


  1. Barb 11 months ago

    In Mission Bay San Diego:
    No crabs, no urchins, no starfish, no nada. There used to be an abundance ?

  2. Jean Ouellette 11 months ago

    A friend who routinely fishes at the Torpedo Pier, inside the Gate, reports that he’s still seeing red and brown rock crabs, but they’re smaller than previously, perhaps because people are blowing off the size limits.

  3. milly Biller 11 months ago

    All seems well in Tomales Bay. There seems to be plenty of small crabs around our docks, and many types of birds- including a bald eagle or two.

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