Friday, 24 October, 2014

Raja Ampat Islands

raja-ampat-diving

Raja Ampat islands located off the northwest tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea, in Indonesia’s West Papua province, 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, and the smaller island of Kofiau.

Raja Ampat Regency is a new regency which separated from Sorong Regency in 2004. 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. Some of the islands are the most northern pieces of land in the Australian continent.

History
The name of Raja Ampat comes from local mythology that tells about a woman who finds seven eggs. Four of the seven eggs hatch and become kings that occupy four of Raja Ampat biggest islands whilst the other three become a ghost, a woman, and a stone.

History shows that Raja Ampat was once a part of Tidore Kingdom, an influential kingdom from Maluku. Yet, after the Dutch invaded Maluku, it was shortly claimed by the Netherlands. The main occupation for people around this area is fishing since the area is dominated by the sea. They live in a small colony of tribes that spreads around the area. Although traditional culture still strongly exists, they are very welcoming to visitors. Their religion is dominantly Christian.

Geography
The oceanic natural resources around Raja Ampat give it significant potential as a tourist area. Many sources place Raja Ampat as one of their top ten most popular places for diving whilst it retains the number one ranking in terms of underwater biodiversity.

According to Conservation International, marine surveys suggest that the marine life diversity in the Raja Ampat area is the highest recorded on Earth. Diversity is considerably greater than any other area sampled in the Coral Triangle composed of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. The Coral Triangle is the heart of the world’s coral reef biodiversity, making Raja Ampat quite possibly the richest coral reef ecosystems in the world.

The area’s massive coral colonies along with relatively high sea surface temperatures, also suggest that its reefs may be relatively resistant to threats like coral bleaching and coral disease, which now jeopardize the survival of other coral ecosystems around the world. The Raja Ampat islands are remote and relatively undisturbed by humans.

The high marine diversity in Raja Ampat is strongly influenced by its position between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as coral and fish larvae are more easily shared between the two oceans. Raja Ampat’s coral diversity, resilience, and role as a source for larval dispersal make it a global priority for marine protection.

1,508 fish species, 537 coral species (a remarkable 96% of all scleractinia recorded from Indonesia are likely to occur in these islands and 75% of all species that exist in the world), and 699 mollusk species, the variety of marine life is staggering. Some areas boast enormous schools of fish and regular sightings of sharks, such as wobbegongs.

Although accessing the islands is not that difficult, it takes some time. It takes six hours flight from Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia to Sorong. Then, taking a boat to reach the islands is necessary.

RAJA AMPAT ISLANDS TODAY:
The roaring engines fixed to a large wooden boat are finally quiet. Nothing can be heard but the rifting little waves, lapping against the vibrant paint on the sides of the vessel that gracefully slows down. Native birds hop on the tip of a small tree in one of the deserted islands in the distance.

Raja Ampat or ‘Four Kings’, is the name given to these islands and comes from a local myth. The four major islands found here are Waigeo, Misool (which is home to ancient rock paintings), Salawati, and Batanta.

Underwater enthusiasts flock to this region because it offers the world’s best marine sights. Two days earlier, some of these travelers had been at a deafening corner of a tourist trap in Bali. Once they took their flight to the bird head of the island of Papua everything changed as they embarked on a diving tour of a lifetime. In the Raja Ampat islands, divers can explore vertical underwater walls. The thrill of drift diving is another great challenge. These are the awesome experiences you will find in Raja Ampat.

Meanwhile, on this tour several divers were well equipped and looked advanced. The territory within the islands of the Four Kings is enormous, covering 9.8 million acres of land and sea, 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 living library for world’s coral reef and underwater biota. According to a report developed by The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, around 75% of the world’s species live here. When divers first arrive here their excitement is palpable. It’s common to hear people praise God as they take in the remarkable scenery. Others prefer to remain in silence taking in the overwhelming sight of so many islands with crystal clear water that softly brushes over the white sandy beaches.

“Disini bagus!”, says the friendly local guide who had been appointed by the tour operator who runs an eco-lodge in Raja Ampat, indicating that they have arrived at one of the most fantastic diving sites. On other days, this guide is just a simple fisherman. The local fishermen here are accustomed to foreigners and are friendly, especially when offered pinang (betel nuts) or some sweet candies. These are very popular and offering these sweets is considered polite and a good way to win an instant smile. The fishermen usually eat this snack during Para-para Pinang, or social chatting and exchanging funny stories while chewing Pinang. In many respects, like nature, culture, and history, these fishermen are closer to the Moluccas.

“No doubt about it, Raja Ampat is definitely the richest place for fish that I have ever been.” –
-Dr G.R. Allen

“I was like a five-year-old, seeing a reef for the very first time. I was awestruck, held by the incredible power of this richest reef. We must, with all available resources, preserve the beauty of Raja Ampat. This may be the last frontier.” –Michael Aw

“I love the people, I love the diving, it’s super! I’ve never been for a second time to the same dive destination but now I’m thinking about going back for the third time! Should I say more?” –Peter van Dalen

While the landscape may look like a dream, this is not an illusion. 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. With no unnecessary adages, the sky, the lush islands, the sea, and everything above and under it is genuinely saying “Welcome to Raja Ampat Islands; your personal Disneyland of diving sites”.

More facts about the Raja Ampat Conservation Area:*

This area is home to 1,511 species of reef fish in the Bird’s Head Seascape;
1,320 species of reef fish in Raja Ampat;
75% of all known coral species in the world;
10 times the number of hard coral species found in the entire Caribbean;
In the Birds Head Seascape there 600 species of hard coral recorded;
5 species of endangered sea turtles;
57 species of Mantis Shrimp;
13 species of Marine Mammals;
And 27 species of endemic reef fish found only in that area

Filed in: Raja Ampat Islands