DIVING IN THE RAJA AMPAT ISLANDS

RAJA AMPAT ISLANDS

Raja Ampat Islands (just off northeast of the birdhead of New Guinea) are regarded by many as the world’ best diving. The variety and rarity of coral and tropical fish in unequaled. What is more, it that it has only recently been discovered and is still largley untouched with plenty places rarely visited by anyone. Raja Ampat means ‘Four Kings’, the four rajas granted rule here by a sultan of the Spice Islands.. The four major islands found here are Waigeo, Misool (which is home to ancient rock paintings), Salawati, and Batanta.

The Raja Ampat Islands were nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. (subway Line, Station) “The Raja Ampat Islands, situated near the Northwest coast of Papua, consists of about 1,500 islands, including several large, mountainous islands, the largest being Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool. The land and surrounding sea occupy approximately 46,000 square kilometers or about 4.6 million ha. Raja Ampat was declared as a new regency or district on 8 May 2003 and consists of 10 sub-districts with a total of 85 villages spread out in over approximately 6 percent of the islands in the regency. The census in 2001 showed that total population in Raja Ampat was 47,771 with an average increase rate of 0.32 percent (Pemda Raja Ampat, 2002). [Source: Ministry of Environment]

“The islands are located in a region on the western boarder of the equatorial Pacific Ocean and at the Northeastern ‘entrance’ of the Indonesian Throughflow from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. The vast majority of the archipelago rests on the Sahul shelf. The wide distribution of small islands across the shelf edge creates a strong gradient from clear water, open oceanic conditions to sheltered and turbid bays, surrounded by krast limestone formations.”

Discovery of the Raja Ampat Islands

David Doubilet wrote in National Geographic: “What scientists found when they surveyed the waters of the Raja Ampat Islands” in 2001 “set off an international alert for their preservation. The archipelago's reefs were not just rich—the region would prove to have the greatest coral reef biodiversity for its size in the world. Even a short initial voyage confirmed more than 450 species of reef-building coral, nine newly discovered. The entire Caribbean, by contrast, holds fewer than 70 species. With so many of the world's reefs destroyed or suffering catastrophic decline, efforts to safeguard this treasure went into high gear. [Source: David Doubilet, National Geographic , September 2007]

“One of the first divers to get an inkling of the abundance that lay below wasn't a scientist but an adventurer named Max Ammer, who came to the sparsely populated Raja Ampat Islands from the Netherlands in 1990 looking for abandoned jeeps and sunken aircraft from World War II. He stayed for the coral and carved out two eco-resorts on the small island of Kri. In 1998 he guided renowned Australian ichthyologist Gerry Allen on a few dives. "Each dive was a mini-exploration," says Gerry. "A light snapped on in my brain, and I thought: This is it."

“Gerry lobbied Conservation International (CI) to conduct a marine survey. Both the region's remoteness and the political turmoil in Indonesia had made it difficult to study these waters systematically, but in 2001 Gerry was among the scientists gathered by CI to make a rapid assessment of Raja Ampat. His intuition had been spot-on. The survey brought Raja's fish species count to an astounding 970; Gerry set a record for personally counting 283 species on one dive. Follow-up surveys coordinated by CI and the Nature Conservancy added to Raja's species count in fish, corals, and other marine life, and confirmed that this biological frontier was an El Dorado of coral reefs.”

Marine Life and Biodiversity at Raja Ampat

The territory within the islands of Raja Ampat is enormous, covering almost 40,000 square kilometers of land and sea. It is home to 540 types of corals, more than 1,000 types of coral fish and 700 types of mollusks. This makes it the most diverse marine ecosystem in the world. According to a report by The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, around 75 percent of the world’s species live here. According to a testimonial taken from iriandiving.com: As you embark on your dive, the phrase ‘Attention to detail’ takes on new meaning as pigmy seahorses swim around your fingers. Manta Rays and wobbegongs will glide right by you. Tuna fish, giant trevallies, snappers, and even barracudas are there to complete your underwater ‘meeting list’. Not to mention the friendly assistant of the dugong, and a busy colleague, the turtle. Natural and untouched beauty is the main attraction here.”

David Doubilet wrote in National Geographic: “What makes these waters a cauldron of life? "Habitat, habitat, habitat," says biologist Mark Erdmann, senior adviser to CI's Indonesian Marine Program. "Extensive fringing reefs, wave-pounded drop-offs, calm deep bays funneling upwellings of nutrients, sand flats, mangroves, sea grass meadows—all in an area that's isolated and still for the most part intact." [Source: David Doubilet, National Geographic , September 2007]

“How these reefs became, in Mark's words, "a species factory," goes back geologic lifetimes to when a series of ice ages lowered ocean levels, leaving small, isolated seas in which species could evolve and diversify. Now the region is a crossroads for Pacific and Indian Ocean species, whose numbers are still being counted. Surveys in 2006 revealed marine life rivaling Raja Ampat's richness—and at least 56 new species—just to the east along the island of New Guinea around Fakfak and Cenderawasih Bay. To encourage protection of these sites as well as Raja Ampat, CI, the Nature Conservancy, and the World Wide Fund for Nature — Indonesia, with the backing of the Indonesian government, created the 70,600-square-mile (183,000 square kilometers) Bird's Head Seascape. Most of it is not yet legally protected, but the government this year named seven new marine protected areas covering nearly 3,500 square miles (9,100 square kilometers) in Raja Ampat.

“What the Bird's Head Seascape holds: 2,500 islands and reefs, nearly 1,300 fish species, 600 coral species, 700 mollusks (including seven species of giant clam), sea turtle rookeries, and more. What it's been robbed of: sharks. They've been slaughtered by outside commercial fishermen supplying the shark-fin soup market. Commercial fishing remains a threat, as does logging and nickel mining. Blast fishing by local subsistence fishermen has damaged some reefs, though the practice is fading as villagers become economic partners in conservation programs.”

Facts about the Raja Ampat Conservation Area (according to a tour operator): 1) This area is home to 1,511 species of reef fish in the Bird’s Head Seascape; 2) 1,320 species of reef fish in Raja Ampat; 3) 75 percent of all known coral species in the world; 4) 10 times the number of hard coral species found in the entire Caribbean; 5) In the Birds Head Seascape there 600 species of hard coral recorded; 6) 5 species of endangered sea turtles; 7) 57 species of Mantis Shrimp; 8) 13 species of Marine Mammals; and 9) 27 species of endemic reef fish found only in that area

Diving in Raja Ampat

October or November is the best season for diving in Raja Ampat because the ocean is typically flat at that time. To organize your travel you use travel agents with services in Indonesia. Just contact the agents in any international gateways in Indonesia (Bali, Jakarta, Medan, Batam, etc) Bring anti-mosquito repellants, anti-malarial medicines, sunscreens and hats. Some of the guides are local fishermen who really appreciate it if you give them so betel nut. For more information, you can contact Raja Ampat Tourism Office at: Kampung Waisai, Distrik Waigeo Selatan, Head of Office: Kalasina Rumbekwan (+62)81344644434, Staff: (+62) 81344422779

On the diving at Raja Ampat, David Doubilet wrote in National Geographic; “These are not all vacation-poster reefs bathed in bright, gentle waters. This is an unruly frontier. Fortified with plankton, key to the reefs' fecundity, the waters are often murky and veiled, churned by currents so powerful you feel as if you're diving in a washing machine and so dizzying with life that the scene could have been painted by Jackson Pollock.” [Source: David Doubilet, National Geographic , September 2007]

As “I swam over the lip of a reef off a rocky islet near Kri, the sea changed from lighthearted blue to brooding green. Purple fields of leather coral rippled as the current came at us like threatening gusts of wind. Reaching a protected undercut, we entered a grove of orange, red, and yellow sea fans surrounded by a pink and purple hedge of soft corals. Swarms of orange anthias fish hovered at the edge of the current, while a squadron of plate-size batfish patrolled the perimeter of the soft coral garden.

“Running low on air, I pushed off to return to the boat and spun into the propelling current, one hand on my cameras, one hand stretching for the boat's ladder, which I caught like a trapeze artist. The islet itself was trailing a wake from the current whipping around it. It's easy to believe the local tale that during World War II the Americans bombed this islet at dusk, thinking it was a Japanese patrol boat steaming across the bay.”

Diving Tours of Raja Ampat

Commonly, divers join a tour and live in a diving resort during their stay in the Raja Ampat Islands or stay on a live-board boat. To access diving spots, please contact and use the professional diving organizers, who can be conveniently found in Sorong. Several tour operators also offer the option of liveaboard tours: 1) Raja Ampat Liveaboard; 20 Dive Raja Ampat; 3) Raja Ampat

Before going to a dive spot, you'll need to obtain a permit from the local Papua police station. You will need to bring your passport and three (3) copies of the passport page with the Indonesian Visa. The diving organizers can help you with these formalities

From Sorong, there are two type of boats available; Speed Boat (40 minutes - 1 hour boat trip, carries 15 passengers and costs Rp2 million/US$208.55); Long Boat (2-3 hour boat trip and could carry 10 passengers for the cost of Rp1,2 million/ US$126). Please note that all rates are subject to change without notice

You may rent a small boat if you wish to stop and make personal discoveries along the line of the beaches. As the Raja Ampat Islands have four mountainous main islands and hundreds of small islands in their vicinity, you may want to take this opportunity to explore. In addition, the Karst area is a beautiful and original natural phenomenon, as it has various unique flora and fauna as its attractions e.g. Bird of Paradise (Cenderawasih) Botak, Red Cenderawasih, Maleo Waigeo, Kus-kus, orchids, palm etc. You can also trek around the islands to find hidden beauties, like waterfalls and ancient caves.

Pulau Misool: Diving Spot with a Resort in Raja Ampat

Misool Island is one of four largest islands in the Raja Ampat archipelago. Regarded as a world class diving destination, it located off the west coast of the main island of Papua, bordering the Seram Sea. The waters here are a veritable highway for many large sea creatures, including whales. When the water is crystal clear turquoise you can see spectacular coral and fish while still aboard your boat. In the water visibility ranges from 10 meters to as far as 30 meters.

There are 60 dive spots within an hour from the island’s main resort (not to mention the hundreds more that await further out to sea). Marine life that is commonly see includes ghost pipefish, blue-ringed octopus, frogfish, pygmy seahorses and mandarin. On the large side are immense schools of surgeon fish, barracuda, wobbegang sharks, dolphins, mantas and Mobula rays.

Diving among the Raja Ampat islands is excellent just about all year round, and the term high season does not carry much meaning, as Misool’s only resort has a maximum capacity of 30 people. From May to July is light rainy season, and July to September may bring heavier rain and small surface swells, but rarely enough to obstruct your enjoyment. It is possible to travel to other parts of Raja Ampat during this time, but the Misool Eco Resort is closed during the months of July, August and September. While the rain may not interfere with diving, the sunny season between October and April is more recommended, as you will have the opportunity for other activities such as trekking and exploring the island. Between October and November is the season for large schools of bait fish, which in turn attracts bigger fish and Mobula Rays, while the May and June south winds bring more sharks.

Aside from diving, a selection of other water sports are also available at Misool Resort, such as kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, or just relaxing on the beach. Boats can also be hired for short trips to the various surrounding islands.. The rugged terrain is predominantly limestone. To the east and west of the island, a maze of limestone pinnacles jut sharply out of the blue sea, carved and eroded by the waves and carpeted luxuriantly in vegetation. The rare beaches on Misool are pure white sand, fringed with coconut trees leading out to the stunningly turquoise waters.

On land, the island is heavily forested with large mangrove swamps and ancient cultural sites. A number of petroglyphs can be found on walls of caves throughout the island, dating back approximately 5,000 years. Land activities include exploring the forests and mangrove forests looking for birds and animals. Rare villages can still be found in remote corners of the island,. It is possible to pay a visit to, to learn more about the local culture, customs and traditions. Finding the petroglyphs is not so easy, as they are hidden amongst a maze of rocks and lagoons, but that only adds to the adventure. The most recognizable image is that of a human hand, colored deep red.

Accommodation and Getting to Pulau Misool

Misool Eco Resort is an exclusive, secluded dive center 165 kilometers away from the nearest port. It is located on the privately-owned island of Batbitim, barely a stone’s throw from Misool Island. The island is surrounded by a 1,220 square kilometer no-take zone. That’s roughly twice the size of Singapore.

The resort offers 8 luxurious cottages built on stilts over the water, each with a hammock integrated into the veranda and stairs leading down to the lagoon. For a higher level of service and seclusion, you have a choice of 4 Deluxe Villas, located on various corners of the island.

A dive resort is also built on stilts near the water cottages, and is fully equipped with a comfortable lounge, a small library, a massive work station, and a veranda for sunning out between dives. Dives are scheduled three times a day, with diving equipment and private guides available upon request.

A restaurant is located tucked under coconut palms, and overlooking the lagoon. It offers a broad selection of Western, Asian and Vegan cuisine. All sea-food is caught outside of the no-take zone, and fruits come from organic plantations around the island. Misool Eco Resort, E mail: info@misoolecoresort.com, Website: misoolecoresort.com welcomebeyond.com

For other accommodation please check with: Papua Diving Indonesia, Tel. +62 811 480 7610; +62 815 27000610 Guest Relations Airport: +62 815 27000624 Skype: papua-diving.com, E mail: info@papua-diving.com, Website: papua-diving.com

Getting There: From Sorong, a private speedboat will take you to the Resort. Boats depart on a pre-arranged schedule by the resort, usually at 7:30am on alternating Sunday mornings. The trip takes between 4 — 5 hours but will seem like no time at all as you journey through some of the most mesmerizing sceneries you have ever seen or ever will see. Transfer fees from Sorong to Misool are included in the resort’s package price.

Wayag Island

Wayag Island is one of the islands within the Raja Ampat district in the province of West Papua. The island is known for its beautiful atolls and amazing underwater life covering a total area of 155,000 hectares (about 383,013.3 acres). Here, you find pristine beaches with unique Karst islands that look like mushrooms sprouting out from the sea. The island is 10 kilometers north of the equator.

Atolls above the surface and vibrant colors of reefs and countless water species under the water are what Wayag Island has to offer.There is a species of fish called Kalabia, which is the welcoming ambassador of Wayag. Among the dive spots that accessible from Wayag Island are Jef Fam islands, known as the Melissa’s Garden, a cluster of small rocky outcroppings surrounded by a large reef. Here are large clams as big as one meter across hiding at the base of the rocks. Wobegong sharks lurk under the coral, jacks and barracudas pass, sometimes in large schools, swim by. Schools of bumphead parrotfish, sea fans with camouflaging pigmy seahorse, can be seen around Kri island. A salt river separating Waigeo Island from Gam Island is rich with archer fish and countless species of goby. You can also see manta fish and the remains of an aircraft from World War II at Wai island. When diving in the Dampier strait, tame manta rays and thousands of fish of various types will come right up to you

Liveaboards are the best choice for travelers to this island and area. There is no existing shelter on Wayag Island. If you like to stay overnight, it is best to stay in the Dampier area where you can find Kri Eco Resort and Sorido Bay Resort owned by Max Ammer, a passionate nature lover and eco-tourism pioneer in Raja Ampat, and managed by Papua Diving. A accommodation in Kenbuba village is also available, owned by Dedy Mayor. Some diving organizers also provide boathouses/ liveaboards. There No at Wayan Island. You have to go to Dampier or bring along food supplies from Waisai or Sorong. Some diving organizers also provide catering.

Getting There: Wayag Island is located in the West Waigeo area of the Raja Ampat Islands. Upon your arrival in Sorong, you can take a fast boat from the Sorong Fishery Port to Waisai, the capital city of the Raja Ampat district. The journey takes around two to four hours. Then from Waisai you must take a longboat to Wayag which takes some six to eight hours. Rental of this longboat is about 6 million IDR (about US $550) per day. Alternatively, you can hire a speedboat to take you straight from Sorong to Wayag for a five-hour journey. This will cost about IDR 9 million (about US $750 ) a day.

Diving at Wayag Island

If you want to visit Wayag Island, you must have a guide who understands navigational conditions in this area. During certain seasons, waves can be quite high and are dangerous for ships. If you like snorkeling and diving, you must bring your own equipment, because there are no rental facilities on this island. You may rent equipment from your diving organizers who usually keep extra units.

Several dive centers useful for you are: 1) Papua Diving Sorido Bay Resort and Kri Eco Resort Jl Gunung Gamalama 3, 98413 Sorong, Tel. +62 411 401 660 / +62 951 328 038, fax: +62 951 325 274, Website: papua-diving.com; 2) Biak Diving, Irba CH. K, Jl. Jenderal Ahmad Yani Yenures, 98112 Biak, Tel. +62 981 26017 / +62 981 25595 Cellular Tel: +62 813 442 19197, fax: +62 981 26018, Website: geocities.com/biakdiving E-mail : irba_chandana[at]yahoo.com; 3)Misool Eco Resort Dive Center, Andrew Miners E-mail: Andy@indoeco.com Wayag Island, Raja Ampat: How to get around in Wayag Island actually depends on where you are staying. So, plan your trip carefully and decide where to stay. If you choose to stay in one of the resorts on one of the Raja Ampat Islands, you will need a boat to visit Wayag Island. But if you choose a liveaboard package, you just need to sit back and enjoy the breeze in your cabin and let the schooner pass the beautiful islands.

Liveaboard packages are a comfortable alternative, and you can find these boats in Sorong, or as far away as Bali which is their marketing hub and port for businesses offering dive packages. Some of the liveaboards are very luxurious, and some are unique and quite fantastic. The facilities are inclusive. Many agree that liveaboards are indeed the best alternative considering time and convenience. At around US$ 300 a day, this is actually good value for money. Liveaboards usually run 10 day cruises out of the port of Sorong, in West Papua. It will not take a long time to travel around the unique beaches of Wayag Island. But it takes very good physical condition to enjoy the beautiful panorama from the top of an atoll, as you must climb the atoll’s steep walls for about 30 minutes.

A dinghy is probably the best means to go island hopping in a day. It is a beautiful interruption between your diving, sleeping and eating routine on your vacation in the Raja Ampat Islands. When hiring a speedboat as alternative, observe the surrounding islands and stop at the clear water to cool yourself after a long hour of the fast seafaring trip. Taking a speedboat is convenient as you can decide your own program.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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