August 2018

- Rangiroa -


Where were we? Somewhere in the vast Pacific, an hour’s flight north of Tahiti. We were standing less than one meter above sea level on the crater rim of a volcano of gigantic proportions: 260 kilometres in circumference and 60 kilometres in diameter. The ridge is only a few hundred metres wide at all points – a narrow band of islands on which only two thousand people live, but millions of coconut palms grow. The Pacific has two deep trenches: and here in the cool, nutrient-rich water, not only do many fish of the most beautiful colours and shapes bustle about, but also so do the larger ‘creatures of the deep’ that feed on them. These manta rays, sharks and dolphins attract divers from all over the world. A very passionate diver had indeed inspired my husband Klaus and me to go to Rangiroa, when she was describing this atoll as the most precious gem in the world.

The reflections of the magnificent colour palette on the smooth water surface of the lagoon are celestially beautiful at sunset every evening, as is the sparkling night sky, and the soft pastel light of the morning. At first sight a paradise – not only for divers. But snorkelling in shallow water offered us a different picture: the sea has become too warm here. The colourful coral forests on the crater wall have long since died, their pale remains pile up on the sea floor. With them, the other life in the sea has also died out. Only a few bigger fish, among them an almost tame reef shark, circle in the lagoon in front of our house. Olga, our landlady, feeds her leftovers.

“Are you worried about the future?” I asked her. “Of course,” Olga said thoughtfully. “We live in the middle of the Pacific, but not behind the moon. The atmosphere is heating up continuously, the ice caps are melting, global sea levels are rising. Rangiroa will probably sink into the sea in the foreseeable future. Or the heavy oil from the cruise ships that haunt us every week will destroy the last coral forests beforehand. This is driving away first the small, then the big fish and finally also the divers. And we locals live off them!” She had her long, already grey hair tied up to a knot and paddled in shorts and T-shirt next to me in the water. “But come,” she said, “let’s swim and enjoy the day.”

The name Rangiroa actually means ‘Vast Sky’. In the afternoon I painted both it and the sea. But my colours and pictures could not reflect the distinctiveness of this unique place: Rangiroa is like a beautiful brooch adorning our earth. A gigantic flat turquoise shimmering in light blue tones, bordered by a dark green palm band, lined on the inner edge by white coral sand and on the outer edge by star-shaped waving white spray. The dark blue of the Pacific, which extends all around to the ends of the visible world, breaks through this frame twice. And this is exactly where life itself sparkles in all colours and forms from the depths like the most precious diamond.

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