Ultimate Raja Ampat – The Last Paradise (Part 3 of 3)
When you visit a place like Raja Ampat over 11 days you really have a lot to talk about. The biodiversity and landscape of the region are inspiring and this is why it’s taken me three blog articles to explain how wonderful this experience was. If you haven’t had the chance already to read the previous two blogs, you can find them here: Part One and Part Two.
After a crossing of around 14 hours – quicker due to a southerly current working with the boat – we found ourselves in Farondi diving Razorback Rock, Anchovy, Nudi Rock (yes, it looks like a nudibranch) and a night dive at Yilliet Slope. I have to admit, it was the south and around Misool that I was really looking forward to on the trip, but it didn’t really get off to the best start and never lived up to the high standards further north had set. To be frank, this was more down to the weather really and the visibility wasn’t brilliant.
A storm meant the dives were pretty dark and in fact, the dive at Anchovy in particular was more like a night dive than a day dive. Unfortunately, we can’t control the weather and on other days these sites could have delivered a lot more. The sea fans on each dive were equally as impressive as further north, and I’d probably say more abundant. The dark atmosphere did mean I could try some fun and different shots with clownfish in anemones but I probably should have switched to macro quicker that day. There are always fun critters to find on every dive site and Nudi Rock showed just that, with a few sea fans being infested with skeleton shrimp. While I’ve seen skeleton shrimp before, I’d never seen anything like this; every bit of the fan was covered. There must have been thousands and it was quite fitting that it was actually Halloween as well.
After a moody day, where I’m guessing the weather gods were celebrating Halloween, I finally switched to macro on the night dive and my photography was rewarded for it. An elusive pygmy squid started the dive but didn’t allow me to get a photo with its tricky movements. Still fun to watch and see, before once again, nudibranch were the stars of the show. A free swimming black and orange flatworm mesmerised mid-water, but it was a super tiny nudibranch of only around a centimetre long that I admired most and took some time to photograph. Then it was the turn of crustaceans once again. A couple of different types of decorator crab, a couple of lobster species and a whip coral shrimp finished off the dive after the sea slug starter.
The next day, the wide-angle opportunities improved drastically. Although, rather annoyingly, I stuck with macro on the first dive at Neptune’s Fan Sea. I hadn’t seen a Denise pygmy seahorse before and was desperate to get a shot of one before the trip was over. This site was a great opportunity. It was sea fan heaven, but that does mean there’s a lot more places to look. The topography was incredible on the dive, a cliff of sea fans greeted us and made wide angle a good option. It was such a relaxing dive with a small school of bumphead parrotfish making the occasional pass, and the soft coral formations continued in huge numbers and were so impressive. I did manage a couple of nice nudibranch shots but the seahorse remained elusive for our group.
I decided to switch back to wide angle for Four Kings and that was certainly the right choice. A swarm of jellyfish greeted us on the dive and made it one of the most memorable of the trip. There was so much life around the pinnacles as the fish life danced a merry dance. The game of dodge the jellyfish entertained throughout and it was interesting to see as they’d get trapped on the sea fans. Something I’d never experienced before on such an incredible dive site. Barracuda point finished off the day’s diving in relaxing style, with a stunning top reef. Yes, I saw my first two Denise pygmy seahorses here, but no, I had my wide angle on. It was a great site for photographing lionfish though and there was a small school of barracuda giving the site its name.
Although “The Jellyfish Dive” was an amazing highlight of the day, it wasn’t actually diving that finished the day in style. A sunset cruise in Wayilbatan delivered those feels. You know the ones, when you’re in a beautiful place, at a beautiful time and with only a handful of people. You get that completely content feeling and just forget all your worries and live for that moment. It was a spontaneous trip out as well, as the itinerary was to trek to Love Lagoon. However, the guests on the trip before advised it would probably be best to take it off the itinerary for a bit. Unfortunately, with a forced Covid break and lack of maintenance care, the stairs have become slightly dangerous for trekking. The alternative didn’t disappoint and in fact excelled. An exploratory journey, where even the crew didn’t really know where we were going, took us to some breathtaking views with an amazing sunset backdrop. The glass like sea provided the perfect stage with its mirror like reflections. Then in the shallows we could see every bit of coral and life we passed, before tilting your head and following the cliff face up to amazing limestone islands covered in lush green rainforest. Just beautiful!!
With only two days and six dives left, one of my main goals was to photograph a Denise pygmy seahorse. I was in a catch 22 though, there were some memorable wide-angle dives to come. Starting with Boo Window and the arch swim through creating a dramatic image with a diver. I was happy with those wide-angle photos, but guess what? We did see a pygmy again. Still, I wasn’t to be defeated and we also had the friendliest hawksbill turtle on the dive too.
Next up was Shadow Reef (a.k.a Magic Mountain), in the hope to see the majestic Oceanic manta rays. We entered through a concentrated section of bad visibility and then the weather also changed with a storm passing over while we were below. It went dark underwater once more and unfortunately there were no mantas to be seen during the dive. It was still such a special dive site with schooling jackfish, a small school of batfish, another friendly hawksbill, Napoleon wrasse and my first whitetip reef sharks of the trip.
I had to switch to macro and hope for a pygmy at Whale Rock. No such luck unfortunately, but it was an amazing macro dive with numerous crustaceans and my favourite photos of whip coral shrimp. A Pikachu nudibranch was another great nudibranch find by one of my dive buddies. There might have been no seahorse due to skeleton shrimp infesting all the sea fans, but I was really happy with the macro photography success on this dive.
The night dive at Romeo carried on with the magnificent macro theme. We were there to try and see a walking shark again but unfortunately it remained elusive on this dive. Typical, when I have all my equipment working! However, a friendly cuttlefish, some pygmy squid and more crustaceans made the dive memorable still. Can I get to photograph a Denise pygmy with only two dives left?? I really hope so…
We finished our diving in Raja Ampat at Tank Rock and Boo West. I was advised both dives would be preferably wide angle. I knew I needed to stick to macro though, with seeing three Denise pygmies previously while shooting wide angle. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity before I left Raja Ampat. Then, as the dive started, I began to lose hope once again. Skeleton shrimp filled the sea fans once more and I thought that would be enough to scare any seahorse to another site. BUT!! It wasn’t long before my guide Aghi worked his magic and found a beautiful little Denise pygmy seahorse for me to photograph. Phew!!! The pressure was off for the dive early on, but now I just needed to get a photo of these difficult to photograph critters. Skeleton shrimp were still sharing the sea fan with the seahorse and parts of them tended to get in the way but without a nice composition of both. I did manage to get some decent in focus shots and my diving in Raja Ampat was complete. Mission successful for another new species for me. An orangutan crab and some nice photos of the skeleton shrimp completed the dive before a switch back to wide angle for Boo West.
While the visibility wasn’t great (but not terrible) for the final dive, it was another stunning dive in paradise, with once again amazing sea fans littering the reef wall in pristine condition. Then came my favourite schooling fish to see, as what must have been around a hundred batfish/spadefish were seen cruising in the current. Such an amazing sight, with a couple of blacktip reef sharks also coming to say goodbye. The real surprise and the memorable moment of the dive came from a tiny cuttlefish that was just bobbing around in the blue away from the reef. I really wasn’t expecting to see it there, as I caught it in the corner of my eye. It took me a second to confirm I wasn’t seeing things but sure enough it was there. It was super friendly and came right up to my mask and I can only hope it stayed safe away from the protection of the reef once we left.
I’d been desperate to visit Raja Ampat for so long and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. La Galigo was the perfect vessel, with the perfect hosts to explore the area with that really made my time extra special. It’s certainly a place I won’t just want to visit once. I could see myself returning again and again and still being amazed by all the things I’d see. I ticked off so many new species in this biodiversity hotspot and took countless photos.
I now had a long journey home of two days, with 22 hours in Jakarta airport. I wasn’t fazed though, as I had so many photos to go through to keep me entertained and those memories kept me smiling throughout the journey. I’d recommend everyone (not just divers) to put Raja Ampat on your travel bucket list. It really is a true paradise and I can perfectly understand where the nickname – “The Last Paradise” comes from.
For more information about diving in Raja Ampat:
Whatsapp: +62 812 2000 2025
New 60m Reel and Dive Torch Combo from Northern Diver
Northern Diver have launched a new 60m Reel & Dive Torch Combo.
The innovative Northern Diver line reel has a unique design and it has been manufactured from a combination of anodized aluminium and synthetic polymers, to make it strong, lightweight and corrosion resistant. The free-flowing spool has a thumb operated spool-lock, to ensure controlled line deployment and a ‘sprung’ reel handle. Allowing the handle to extend whilst in use, if wearing gloves but springs back to half its length, for easy storage. Supplied complete with 60m (197’) of high-vis orange reel line.
The reel also incorporates an attachment point on the top and rubber fixing band allowing you to easily mount Northern Divers Varilux Micro Dive Torch. Ideal for hands-free directional light, ideal for lining out in reduced visibility (within a wreck). Other torches of a similar size to the Micro may be mountable but you should check dimensions first.
Check out https://www.ndiver.com/60m-reel-dive-torch-combo for more.
Marine Life & Conservation
Reefs Go Live returns for new season
CCMI brings the ocean directly to classrooms around the world through live-stream lessons from underwater
In 2018, the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) launched Reefs Go Live, their innovative, flagship education programme that live-streams directly from underwater on the coral reefs in Little Cayman to students in classrooms around the world in real time. For the 2022 season, the four episodes of Reefs Go Live reached more than 107,000 viewers in 22 countries. CCMI’s Reefs Go Live team hopes to expand their reach with four new episodes and supplemental teaching resources to help integrate the material into classroom lessons.
Science Communications & Development Manager for CCMI, Beth Chafin, is excited to be part of another year of Reefs Go Live:
“Knowing we have an audience that spans the world, our team is energised as we plan and implement our Reefs Go Live season for 2023! We feel that creating a connection to the ocean and sharing the beautiful coral reefs of Little Cayman with others, both locally and abroad, is one of the most important ways to increase support for critical, timely issues such as marine protection and sustainability. At CCMI, we are fortunate to have these stunning reefs at our doorstep; not everyone is so lucky to be this connected to coral reefs, but healthy coral reefs are vitally important to everyone on earth. Bringing the ocean into classrooms and homes through Reefs Go Live allows us to share the work we do at the Little Cayman Research Centre, facilitate real-time interactions between viewers around the world and our experts in the field, and inspire the diverse audience to take positive action for the future of coral reefs.”
The first episode of 2023 will take place on Friday, 31st March at 10 am Cayman time (UTC -5h). The episode, ‘Finding Hope on our Reefs’, will feature what CCMI’s long-term monitoring of Little Cayman’s reefs shows us. The data from the annual surveys reveals important trends in reef health over time that reflect global threats and the benefits of strong local protection. Reefs Go Live hosts will explain why this annual monitoring is important and what the results tell us about the future of our coral reefs that we all depend upon. Viewers of each episode will be able to ask questions of the diver and participate in polls through the online platform to make Reefs Go Live an interactive experience.
Additional episodes for this year will run at 10 am (UTC -5h) on the following dates:
Thursday, 11th May: Adaptation on Coral Reefs
Wednesday, 24th May: Reef Resiliency & Restoration
Thursday, 8th June: World Ocean Day – 25 Years of Coral Reef Research
Registration for Reefs Go Live is free and is only required once to receive access to all episodes: https://donate.reefresearch.org/rgl2023.
Reefs Go Live provides an opportunity for students from all over the world to engage with the stunning ocean environment in its most natural format. As coral reefs around the world face unprecedented pressure, generating increased engagement with these precious ecosystems creates an opportunity to promote marine sustainability in a positive and fun way.
Reefs Go Live utilises streaming technology with underwater video and audio equipment to enable real time broadcasting from Little Cayman’s stunning coral reefs. Little Cayman, a Mission Blue Hope Spot, hosts one of the healthiest reef ecosystems in the Caribbean, which overall remains healthy and shows resiliency to climate change impacts. The broadcasts and education materials draw connections from CCMI’s current research conducted in Little Cayman to the national science curriculum and key ocean literacy principles, making CCMI’s work relevant and accessible to students and viewers of all ages, and emphasizing the relationship that we all have to coral reefs, no matter where we are.
Reefs Go Live is a free education programme that is made possible by the generosity of The Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball Foundation. To register for the broadcasts and teaching resources, please visit: https://reefresearch.org/what-we-do/education/reefs-go-live/
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