Diving Raja Ampat – life on the line

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Diving Raja Ampat – life on the line

By Gavin Parsons

Charles Darwin is revered, Edward Wallace is a biologist’s pin-up, but Richard Lydekker is largely forgotten, which is a shame because for divers, his discovery gives us reason to dive Raja Ampat.

Lydekker was a biogeographer: a scientist who studies where animals live. A modern day biogeographer might study the lionfish invasion of the Caribbean. Lydekker spent years studying the waters between Australia and South East Asia and discovered a dividing line of marine life between Indonesia and Papua – Australia.

Map of Sunda and Sahul - Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa)

Map of Sunda and Sahul – Maximilian Dörrbecker

Biogeographical lines are exciting. OK they may not sound it, but underwater they’re not like a garden fence. They are overlapping areas where biodiversity has a party with an explosion of species which make for jaw-dropping diving experiences.

Raja Ampat is revered within diving circles as one of the best places in the world to dive. The macro life, for example, is a cacophony of animals created by the mixing of marine life from both sides of Lydekker’s line. Further up the food chain are the vast shoals of fish of all sizes, manta rays and sharks and the remoteness of the location and the lack of tourist activity has created a dive destination that few can match. Just listing the species that inhabit the Raja Ampat archipelago and western Papua is an exercise in futility, as there’s so much.
read on…

There’s a couple of ways of experiencing Raja Ampat diving. The first is a land based resort on one of Raja Ampat’s four main islands. Planet Dive Holidays offer landbased diving holidays in Papua and Raja Ampat with resorts on Misool Island and Kri Island. And the second is to see Raja Ampat by liveaboard.

Raja Ampat Islands - Jonathan Chase

Raja Ampat Islands – Jonathan Chase

Liveaboard diving Raja Ampat is usually done from Sorong (West Papua) on a circular route but other itineraries are possible, including embarkation in Bitung, on North Sulawesi, and sailing to Sarong, an itinerary that takes divers through the heart of Raja Ampat.

As anywhere, the benefits of a liveaboard dive holiday to Raja Ampat is that you get to see the dive sites at the best time of day and you can cover a much wider area to take in the best diving that the Raja Ampat region has to offer. To liveaboard dive Raja Ampat and the West Papua region you can see the itineraries and boats amongst the Indonesia Liveaboard Diving pages.

Raja Ampat has a deluge of species large and small at so many sites that it is hard to pick the best. The most iconic are pygmy seahorses, mimic octopus, and more shrimps than you can wave an antennae at. Then there are fish shoals so big you could hide a London bus in them as well as mantas that could audition for the Royal Ballet School they are so beautiful and graceful. Lastly come whalesharks, a species that could suffer from vertigo so high are they on a diver’s wish list.

As an underwater photographer Raja Ampat is one of the most idyllic places to practice my art. Few places in the world can you find such a collection of animals. And mixed with the medley of critters, fish and reptiles are reef formations that create dramatic backgrounds for any image. Plus there are shallow water macro sites, clear water mangrove stands/swamps and even a few wrecks. As a destination, in my opinion, Raja Ampat has everything a diver could wish for. Warm water, wrecks, reefs, lagoons, outcrops, ledges, caves, caverns, overhangs. You name it, apart from freshwater and ice diving, Papua and Raja Ampat has it all. That’s why divers rate Raja Ampat in the top ten best dive locations in the world.

My personal favourite marine creature can be found here in abundance. Manta rays are what you’d get if you could see gracefulness. They are insanely beautiful and serene, yet because of their size (manta rays grow to over two metres wide) they can be tricky to photograph.

Mantas off Kri Island – Location of Sorido Bay Resort & Kri Eco Resort

Luckily Raja Ampat has its manta ray sites where encounters with several animals are common. That gives photographers a better chance of getting close to an individual. With a wide angle lens or adaptor fitted to your camera you need to be as close to the animal as possible. However, there is a trick to getting close enough. If you swim at the ray, it will swim off. They do not like to be directly approached, so the best thing to do is stay still. Sounds odd I know, but mantas are curious and once you spark their curiosity chances are they will approach you.

Sadly, quite often there are divers who’s excitement gets the better of them and they rush headlong at a manta to just watch it turn and fly away. Luckily, if this happens in Raja Ampat, chances are there will be other mantas around the corner, and guides become good at keeping divers calm.

If you visit Papua and Raja Ampat be sure to say a thank you on the wind to Richard Lydekker and the discoveries biogeography has made in the region. Raja Ampat is a jewel for the planet and diving here is a privilege.