Raja Ampat: The Holy Grail of Marine Diversity

Text by Terry Donohue
Photos and videos by Chloé Donohue
Published “exclusively” on Where2

As any avid diver knows, Raja Ampat is the holy grail of marine diversity.  It’s where the Pacific and Indian Oceans meet and is a route for many pelagic species.  There are dozens of remarkable dive sites with varying topographies – from walls to pinnacles and coral gardens to caves.  We returned to Raja Ampat in December of 2017.  Here is a small sampling of what we encountered while diving…

Tasseled Wobbegong Sharks
A Tasseled Wobbegong shark lies in waiting…

Named after the stringy fringe around their mouths, these sedentary creatures are ambush predators. Masters of camouflage, they can be difficult to spot even when they are right in front of you – look for their swaying tail which will look like a fish pacing the floor of a hospital waiting room.

Wobbegongs typically lie under the coral until something tasty swims by, then they slurp it up like a vacuum cleaner.  I have never seen a Wobbegong move much, until this dive at Meyhem…

Hawksbill Turtles

Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtles are commonly found on the reefs of Raja Ampat. Green Sea Turtles are gentle algae feeders that can sometimes be seen massaging themselves against rocks and coral.  Hawksbill turtles on the other hand, act like they just came home from a pub crawl, knocking over everything in their path and leaving the reef in a mess.  This one even bungled into my GoPro!

A Snoozing Napoleon Wrasse

These gentle giants inhabit the reefs of Raja Ampat and across Indonesia.  They can reach up to two meters and are usually seen casually cruising by themselves. Like most marine creatures, they enjoy being groomed by cleaner fish.  However, I have never seen a Napoleon in such a state of bliss like this sleeping beauty we encountered at a dive site called Kuburan…

Pirouetting Oceanic Mantas
An Oceanic Manta

Graceful.  Mesmerizing.  Huge.  These elegant creatures can be seen at dive sites throughout Raja Ampat when there is an abundance of plankton.  Ranging from three to five meters, they will reward patient divers with a dance that outclasses a Russian ballet.

The most famous site to see oceanic mantas is Manta Sandy, however these videos were taken at Mioscon.  Remember to give the mantas space.  If you are very still, they will often come to you.  Also, never touch them as you can remove the protective coating on their skin, making them susceptible to disease.

Patrolling Reef Sharks

On most plunges into the blue, divers will encounter blacktip, whitetip or grey reef sharks.  These predators typically patrol the edges of the reef, though they can also be found on top of the reef.  They usually keep their distance, but close encounters are not uncommon.

Friendly Batfish
An amorous Batfish

Batfish are some of the most sociable fish in the sea.  In fact, they can be down-right flirtatious, swimming nonchalantly back and forth while batting their big, beautiful eyes.  When they are feeling amorous, they may even swoop in for a non-consensual kiss!

They can be found in the deep, but generally prefer shallower waters and the protection of docks, much to the delight of snorkelers.

An Abundance of Life

The reefs of Raja Ampat will surprise you on every dive.  One of my favorite experiences  is to be swimming with a large school of fish.  These schools of life often include blue fusiliers, trevally, barracuda, tuna and sweetlips.  When the Great Travally are on the prowl, schools can come rushing from behind and you will find yourself in the midst of a hot pursuit!

The kid in you will love seeing “Nemo”, the clownfish.  They can be a fierce guardian of their territory and will sometimes “attack” from their home in the sea anemone harmlessly striking your camera or your wetsuit.

The reefs of Raja Ampat are also populated by yawning moray eels, fleeting stingrays and chameleon octopi that can change their skin texture and color with amazing speed in order to blend in with the surroundings.

Just like the rest of Indonesia, Raja Ampat always surprises!


4 thoughts on “Raja Ampat: The Holy Grail of Marine Diversity”

  1. This article depicts a divers paradise. The photos are awesome. I’m not a diver, but I love learning about and seeing the marine life and landscape. Your articles are such a joy to read!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Who knew there were so many different personalities in the deep blue sea? This article gives you a sort of tutorial of who, what & where. Like getting a hall pass in high school & hanging with the cool fishies, & who to avoid!


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