Update: Teahupo’o Under Threat

This corner of Tahiti remains pretty and unspoiled for now. Photo: Jeff Flindt

This corner of Tahiti remains pretty and unspoiled for now. Photo: Jeff Flindt

Vaiarava is the name of a river that empties quietly into the lagoon around four miles south of Teahupo'o.

Its name means "beautiful water." But if a French hydroelectricity company has its way with the river and its valley, Vaiarava will be beautiful no longer.

The company plans to construct a series of dams and downstream flood control measures through one of the Society Islands' most pristine volcanic valleys, taking apart an ecosystem thousands of years old and almost certainly causing regular pollution of the lagoon and reef waters in the process.

In addition, it seems certain that any project of its size will require a road extension beyond the Teahupo'o river and into coastline which is now accessible only by boat.

Teahupo'o would be the End of the Road no longer, and a magnificently raw piece of Polynesia would be thrown open to...well, whatever came down that road.

Peva Levy, 54, a marine biology researcher whose family first came to Teahupo'o in 1962 and who's lived here permanently for over 30 years, is leading the fight against the proposal -- a fight he says is supported by the vast majority of residents. "Almost nobody wants this to happen," he says. "It's unnecessary."

I cruised down the coast to visit Vaiarava with Peva yesterday. To say our jaw was hanging by a thread is sort of an understatement. The area is astoundingly beautiful, with vast jagged valleys that make the famous Chopes backdrop look tame, and the hand of humankind lying very light upon it all.

Around 30% of Tahiti's power needs are served by hydroelectric projects like the one being planned for Vaiarava. The rest is generated via the sun, wind, and diesel power. Work is also being done on turbine systems that would be mounted underwater in reef passes and driven by tidal movements.

But why a double-dam hydro power project is needed in such a remote part of the island is a question yet to be answered. There are only 69 dwellings along the coast south of Teahupo'o. Most currently draw power from solar photovoltaic cell rigs. "People down here understand how to use power," Peva says. "They don't waste, they don't leave all the lights on. They know they don't need this."

You can't help but suspect that a classic formula would be followed here: power and transport equals development. And development here wouldn't just be inappropriate, it'd be obscene.

--Nick Carroll

The Save the River Group needs help. Support of any kind is welcomed by Peva and his crew. To offer your support, email Peva at vaiarateahupoo@gmail.com.