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Heaven is Here

Ryan Borne


Behind the Shot

Even from space, the beautiful sandy islands and islets of Tikehau, a small circular atoll about 200 miles from Tahiti, stand out starkly against the clear blue-green waters. The ring of white and pink sand beaches, covered in coconut palm trees, appear as a near-perfect unbroken ring. Images from the Advanced Land Imager on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite clearly show how the 16-mile-wide atoll resembles a huge tub, with whitecaps and the tips of reefs poking up above the water like stars and galaxies floating in deep space.

From the sea, though, only the tallest palm trees break the horizon. There are no steep rocky cliffs or granite peaks. From a topographical standpoint—its highest elevation is 26 feet—Tikehau is flat as a pancake.

Ryan remembers arriving at Tikehau: “We landed on the atoll in the morning and I was still wondering if I was dreaming or not. The atoll is basically just a circular reef barely emerging from the deep blue, lost in the middle of the Pacific. We were surrounded by cumulonimbus clouds, and squalls were generating curtains of rain in the distance. The next morning we were going to swim with sharks. If heaven exists, it’s here.”