Weekend Warm-Up: Makatea

Erwan Le Lann has sailed to the remotest corners of the world on a boat called the Maewan. Perhaps his most valuable discovery is Makatea, a raised coral atoll in French Polynesia.

At first glance, Makatea is the very definition of a desert island. But a closer look shows a vibrant interior of unique flora and fauna, cave systems, and most importantly, epic haunts for climbers.

Le Lann also runs a scientific and educational NGO. He decided to take a leap of faith and bring a new source of income to the island. Online, he invited climbers to this edge of the world, to climb the island’s high-quality limestone walls. Climbers eventually helped resurrect the island and gave it an identity.

The island was dealt a bad hand in life. It was the centre of a buoyant phosphate mining industry from 1917 to 1968. Its thriving but temporary economy supported bakeries, shops, clinics, and schools. However, nuclear testing, leftover mining destruction, and almost complete decimation of resources led to the decline of this once-bustling island. Eventually, almost everyone left. Over time, nature recovered and the tropical jungle mostly swallowed up the abandoned buildings and machines. 

Erwan and his climbers decided to bring life back to Makatea by helping the few remaining locals foster a new and sustainable industry: extreme sports tourism. The island’s mixture of volcanic, coral, and limestone rock turned out to be ideal for climbing of all levels. Cave systems beneath supported diving and spelunking. 

It went to show that even the worst circumstances offer the potential for new life to grow.