West Papua Indonesia comprises the western half of the huge island of New Guinea situated just northern tip of Australia and at the far eastern reaches of the Nusa Tenggara. It is one of the planets final frontiers both above and below the ocean. Most of the diving here is concentrated around the recently discovered reefs of Raja Ampat archipelago. Raja Ampat meaning Four Kings is named after the four sultans who once ruled West Papua and is rapidly becoming one of Asia’s diving hotspots. The four islands of Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool are in the part of West Papua known as the “bird’s head” peninsular and have earned almost mythical status among divers.
According to the Conservation International Rapid Assessment Project in 2002 the marine life diversity for scuba diving in West Papua is considerably greater than all other areas sampled in the coral triangle of Indonesia, Philippines and Papua New Guinea. West Papua and particularly the Raja Ampat Islands in the North West
are quickly becoming recognised as one of the most diverse and pristine reef ecosystems in the world. With their very low human population which still use only traditional fishing techniques, and their inaccessibility, these islands have still maintained their pristine natural state. Findings include 970 fish species – a world record 283 on one single dive at Cape Kri, the benchmark figure for an excellent dive site of 200 fish species surpassed on 51% of Raja Ampat dives (another world record), 456 coral species (a remarkable 96% of all scleratinia recorded from Indonesia are likely to occur in these islands), 699 mollusca species – again another world high.
One of the great things about this area is the variety of reefs and their topography. There are vertical walls, reef flats, slopes, ridges, sea mounds, mucky mangroves, lagoons and pinnacles all of which are affected by a varying degree of current from none to very strong. The visibility is normally very good in the Raja Ampat islands, ranging from 20 to 40 meters varying in the different areas. The north generally has excellent visibility as the water is deep and the islands are small with very little run off.
Raja Ampat archipelago (Waigeo island, Batanta island, Salawati island and Misool island) is a world diving hotspot !
Located off the northwest tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea, Raja Ampat, or
the Four Kings, is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays and shoals surrounding the four main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo. It encompasses more than 40,000 km² of land and sea, which also contains Cenderawasih Bay, the largest marine national park in Indonesia. It is a part of the newly named West Papua province of Indonesia which was formerly Irian Jaya
According to the Conservation International Rapid Assessment Bulletin the marine life diversity is considerably greater than all other areas sampled in the Coral Triangle of Indonesia, Philippines and Papua New Guinea. The Coral Triangle is the heart of the world’s coral reef biodiversity, the seas around Raja Ampat are possibly the richest in the world. The area’s massive coral colonies show that its reefs are resistant to threats like coral bleaching and disease – threats that now jeopardise the survival of corals around the world. In addition, Raja Ampat’s strong ocean currents sweep coral larvae across the Indian and Pacific Oceans to replenish other reef ecosystems. Raja Ampat’s coral diversity, resilience, and ability to replenish reefs make it a global priority for marine protection.
Over 1,070 fish species, 537 coral species (a remarkable 96% of all scleratinia recorded from Indonesia are likely to occur in these islands), and 699 mollusc species, the variety of marine life is staggering. Some areas boast enormous schools of fish and regular sightings of sharks, such as wobbegongs.
RAJA AMPAT ISLANDS DIVE SITES
This is one of the larger islands in the archipelago. The stunning reefs around Misool offe
r a breathtaking kaleidoscope of colour which offers a ni
ce contrast to all the big stuff on other dive sites. Sloping walls are carpeted with soft corals of every colour imaginable housing all manner of critters from ghost pipefish to harlequin shrimp to pygmy seahorses.’
This reef is one of the more popular dive sites of Raja Ampat and its no surprise why. Marine Biologist and respected author of a number of marine reference books Dr. Gerald R. Allen said “On my last trip to Raja Ampat, I recorded 283 fish species during a single dive near the Kri Island resorts. This is the most fishes ever seen on a single dive over a career spanning almost 30 years.”
Divers here can look forward to being literally engulfed by fish, huge swirling schools of dogtooth tuna, jacks, giant trevally and chevron barracuda. In addition to these expect to see large napoleon wrasse, car sized Queensland groupers and reef sharks as you drift along with the fish. Coral growth here is also diverse with all manner of hard and soft varieties. It is best to stay deep here to avoid the stong surface currents.
Sardine reef is a large off shore reef that slopes down to around 25 meters. There are no actual sardines here but the fish are so tightly packed that it derives the name of the dive site. Great schools of fish block out the light, jacks, tuna, trevally, they’re all here in huge numbers. There are also Australian Wobbegongs to be found here hiding under ledges and table corals. This dive really is a fish frenzy, you even need to stay close to your buddy if you want to keep them in sight for the living walls of fish.
Named after a cross marking the landing spot of the first Christian missionaries to Irian Jaya this wreck is upright on the sandy bed at 18 meters. The
Japanese patrol boat is the most accessible of all Raja Ampat wrecks, depth charges and the ships lamps can still be seen. Penetration is possible to the communications room, engine room and front hold where features such as the switchboard and ammunition can be seen. Coral cover is good and plenty of reef inhabitants now call the wreck thier home, these include lionfish, huge napoleon wrasse, humphead parrotfish and all manner of critters that come our especially at night.
At the end of the Cross Wreck is this delightful little area back towards the beach. In amongst the sand and rubble are a vast array of critters including frogfish, leaffish, devil scorpionfish, seahorses and mantis shrimp.
This WWII cargo ship wreck is one of the more impressive, she lies on her port side from 16 to 34 meters. Two huge bomb damage holes on the starboard side are visible and all manner of debris including mine sw
eeping equipment, technical equipment, car batteries, cables ammunition and sake bottles is strewn around. Two diving helmets make a great photo opportunity. This wreck is not as densely covered in corals as the Cross Wreck, but is home to many schooling jacks and plenty of pipefish. The wooden floors of the bridge have collapsed and most of its contents are still there.
There is a wrecked P40 that was shot down and now lies at 27 meters, the plane which is still largely intact was discovered in 1999.
The passage lies between the islands of Gam and Waigeo. It is only about 25 meters wide and looks more like a river from the surface. A jumble of rocks marks the entrance to this enchanting looking dive site, the coral almost grows to the surface here. There is not much choice but to drop in and drift down the channel, pausing in bays where the current is more forgiving. Plenty of life can be found here including octopus, flatworms and cuttlefish, even the Wobbegong shark can be spotted on occasion. Schools of bigger fish await out in the current such as jacks, tuna, barracuda and sharks. Caves and arches also make up some of the topography here.
Close by is this recently discovered sheltered dive site where the small island and bays wield a number of flamboyant nudibranchs.
This rocky outcrop just off Cape Kri was bombed duing WWII. From the air it was mistaken for a Japanese ship due to its size and the wake left by speeding currents. Walls surrounding the islet drop to over 40 meters and attract huge schools of sweetlips, snappers and fusiliers. A dazling array of giant sea fans on a shelf at 27 meters can be explored for pygmy seahorses and the walls and coral crevaces home all manner of reef life. Mike’s point is named after pioneer Max Ammer’s son.
This spot is famed for its visiting manta rays and a couple of WWII aircraft wrecks. However it is also popular for night diving in the secluded bay. All manner of creatures emerge to feed including octopus, stonefish, epaulette sharks, wobbegongs, squid, pipefish and many rare nudibranchs.
There is hundreds unknown dive sites and plenty of them to explore adn to discover.