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Panoramic view of the islands in Raja Ampat - coral triangle adventures

Raja Ampat Trip Report Nov 2018

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Hovering above a colorful reef in Raja Ampat, Indonesia

A kaleidoscope of colors

Wow. That short, three-letter word is probably the most apt term to describe our recent snorkeling in Raja Ampat. Just about perfect equatorial weather allowed us to sail on smooth seas and get up close and personal with the shallow reef life that dominates this remote region. No matter how many times one has been to Raja Ampat, it is easy to be dazzled by not only the biodiversity found here but also the overall health of the marine ecosystem.

One of the many beautiful islands in Misool, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Another beautiful…

Our voyage began as we sailed from Sorong to the rugged limestone islands found in long ridges off the southeast coast of Misool. We snorkeled the extensive, shallow fringing reefs for three days, spotting hunting octopus, Banded sea kraits, schools of colorful planktivorous fish, and copious amounts of healthy, reef-building corals. Interestingly, the limestone islands of Misool harbor distinctive reefs from those found more to the north of Sorong. Many, if not all, marine species overlap in both areas, just about 100 miles apart, but the growth forms of the reefs are different.

Raja Ampat coral reef life - coral triangle adventures

Colorful corals

After departing Misool we sailed north to the island of Batanta where we were lucky to have some encounters with resident manta rays and observe a beautiful female Broadclub cuttlefish laying a clutch of eggs in just a meter of water. From there our route continued north to the island Penemu and then Alyui Bay on the westernmost tip of Waigeo. Penemu gave us a chance to visit a distinctive marine lake, check out an unusual coil of Diamondback squid eggs, watch Hawksbill turtles and, after a short walk on land, afforded us an impressive view of the rock islands in this area. Alyui Bay is one of those areas that just can’t be adequately described. It’s varied marine habitats offer both incredible biodiversity stuffed into every square inch of underwater substrate and glimpses of incredibly rare species like Halimeda, Robust, and Ornate ghost pipefish, Needle cuttlefish, and numerous Cockatoo waspfish.

A female cuttlefish places her eggs in coral in Raja Ampat, Indonesia

A female cuttlefish

From Alyui our group of enthusiastic snorkelers sailed southward to explore the reefs and blue-water mangroves found around the lush island of Gam. Gam became well-known due to it being one of Alfred Russell Wallace’s destinations on his long and arduous expedition around the Malay Archipelago. Nowhere else on Earth do corals grow in such abundance among clear-water mangrove forests and this unique setting made for perfect snorkeling. It was hard to get out of the water here since there was so much to see! Finally, we ended our trip at the island of Friwin, just south of Waigeo’s Kabui Bay. Drifting along Friwin’s limestone undercut allowed us to fly over soft corals, anemones, and massive gorgonians. We then ended this marathon snorkel in an exquisite coral garden dominated by tiered table corals with schools of parrotfish and surgeonfish swimming among them.

All in all, it was a trip after which there was nothing to say but “wow.” Spectacular weather, calm seas, healthy reefs, and an excellent group of travelers made this another perfect Coral Triangle Adventure. We are obviously excited to return to Raja Ampat again and again in 2019 and beyond.

Porcelain crab photographed by coral triangle adventures

Crabs and anemones

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Here’s a bit of reef irony, the porcelain crab (Neopetrolisthes maculatus) lives on carpet anemones where they can hide from potential predators. Their carapace protects them from the harmful nematocysts that might otherwise deliver a painful sting to the crab. Unlike most crabs, they do not scavenge for food, rather they have bristle-like hairs on modified appendages around the mouth that allows them to filter feed plankton. Their name derives from their desperate attempt to escape predators; they can detach their claws and leave them behind as decoys while they quickly retreat. Ultimately, they will regrow new claws. The crab, though is not one to run at the first sign of trouble. Along with any anemonefish that may share their host anemone, they will aid in protecting the anemone from predators such as butterflyfishes.

Boxer crab or pom pom crab photographed in Komodo National Park - Coral Triangle Adventures

A boxer crab

The porcelain crab, however, is not the only type of crab that has a relationship with sea anemones. The boxer crab (Lybia tessellata), sometimes referred to as the pom-pom crab, enjoys a symbiotic relationship as well, but quite opposite from that of the porcelain crab. Instead of residing inside the disc of a larger anemone, the tiny crab (a shell of just 2.5cm across) finds and uses even smaller anemones for his defense. By picking a single anemone in each claw, they effectively have a painful punch. Plus, they often strip the anemone for food if nothing is immediately available. It may sound like this is not the balanced relationship that the porcelain crab has with the anemone, but the anemones, being as small as they are, are easy prey for a lot of reef creatures such as fishes, shrimps, other crabs, and nudibranchs. If they remain sessile, they must find a spot that allows them to be exposed to good water flow so they can capture food and maximize gas exchange.

Juvenile yellowtail coris photographed in Komodo National Park - coral triangle adventures

Komodo National Park 2018 Trip Report

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Two of my top five snorkel sites in the world, in terms of deliverability, are found on our Komodo National Park snorkeling tour. On our latest departure, I had one of the best snorkel sessions on each of these sites that I have ever had. Should I just stop here and show the pictures? And a bit of fluorescence and some of the eight mantas that we snorkeled with as well?

a juvenile yellow boxfish photographed in komodo national park - coral triangle adventures

A juvenile yellow

A yellow seahorse in komodo national park - coral triangle adventures

A yellow seahorse

juvenile rockmover wrasse photographed in komodo national park - coral triangle adventures

Juvenile rockmover wrasse

a regal angelfish wth abnormal pattern photographed in komodo national park - coral triangle adventures

Regal angelfish

Hairy red reef lobster in komodo national park - coral triangle adventures

A hairy red

oriental sweetlips photographed in Komodo National Park - coral triangle adventures

A juvenile

peacock mantis shrimp photographed in komodo national park - coral triangle adventures

Peacock mantis shrimp

manta ray and sunbeams photographed in komodo national park - coral triangle adventures

Manta ray

Manta ray photographed in Komodo National Park - coral triangle adventures

A manta ray

A leaf scorpionfish photographed in Komodo National Park - coral triangle adventures

Leaf scorpionfish

an ornate ghost pipefish photographed in Komodo National Park - coral triangle adventures

A male ornate ghost pipefish

Fluorescing acropora colony at night in Komodo National Park - coral triangle adventures

Acropora colony

Acropora fluorescing in Komodo National Park - coral triangle adventures

Acropora polyps

False clown anemonefish peeks out from its host in Komodo National Park - coral triangle adventures

A false clown

Fimbrited moray eel photographed in Komodo National Park - Coral triangle adventures

A fimbriated moray eel

juvenile cuttlefish photographed in Komodo National Park - Coral triangle adventures

A tiny cuttlefish

Clown nudibranchs photographed in Komodo National Park - coral triangle adventures

Mating clown nudibranchs

blue devil photographed in Komodo National Park - coral triangle adventures

A female blue devil

Yeah, Komodo is just that good! We’ll be there twice next year in May and October

reef squid photographed in Turneffe Atoll, Belize

Belize 2018 Trip Report

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rough-tail stingray photographed in Belize, coral triangle adventures

A rough-tail ray

Coral Triangle Adventures’ second trip to Belize and the Caribbean Sea was another one to remember. Once again our group of snorkelers was stationed at the tranquil and remote Turneffe Island Resort, situated at the southernmost end of Turneffe Atoll, about 20 miles due east of Belize City. Though the trip began with a bit of windy weather, our locale on the Mesoamerican barrier reef quickly reverted to blue skies and calm seas. Throughout our time at Turneffe we were able to explore a number of different marine habitats during our snorkels including shallow, inner lagoon reefs, outer reef slopes with dramatic spur and groove channels, the world famous Blue Hole, as well as some mangrove and seagrass environments.

Purple sea fans photographed in Belize - coral triangle adventures

Sea fans…

Turneffe Atoll is fringed by an endless maze of lush, low mangrove forests with idyllic, sandy islands found on the windward edge. From our base at Turneffe Island Resort, most of our snorkeling sites, where we spent hours in the water, were only a few minutes away. This year we noticed a large number of elasmobranchs that were found on almost every snorkel. Large Southern stingrays, Roughtail stingrays, well-camouflaged Yellow stingrays, majestic Spotted eagle rays, sleepy Nurse sharks, and even a good-sized Lemon shark were seen. The stingrays were especially prevalent and everyone in our group was able to closely witness feeding behaviors of the Southern and Roughtail stingrays.

Our snorkel around the shallow edge of Blue Hole, located in the middle of the remote Lighthouse Reef, was as good as snorkeling gets in the Caribbean. The famed World Heritage Site is a perfectly round marine sink hole, fringed by vibrant sea fans, sea rods, sponges, and hard corals that grow just under the water line. Parrotfish, angelfish, barracuda, grunts, and countless other species meander along this colorful reef, making it a perfect snorkel site. We then had a picnic lunch on the idyllic National Monument of Half Moon Caye where Red-footed boobies and Magnificent frigatebirds nest in huge numbers. This entire area is part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System and is well worth the time to explore underwater.

snorkeling blue hole, Belize, coral triangle adventures

Colorful corals…

Another of our many highlights was having a few minutes of snorkeling with several playful Bottlenose dolphins in the midst of the lagoon. It looked as if we were in the presence of potential mating behavior as they were being quite rambunctious. Whatever behavioral event was happening it was fun to be there and witness it!

Overall, we had a fantastic group of enthusiastic snorkelers and a beautiful experience snorkeling the shallow coral reefs, seagrass meadows, mangroves, and drop offs. We are certainly looking forward to future explorations of the Caribbean Sea.

Wakatobi dive resort - aerial photograph taken by lee goldman - coral triangle adventures

Wakatobi 2018 Trip Report

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Wakatobi is an acronym combining the first two letters in the names of the four main islands (Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko), that lie to the southeast of the island of Sulawesi. Aside from being a stunningly scenic series of islands created by uplifted oceanic crust and ancient limestone reefs, the area is known for its rich and colorful reefs. After our 10-day Coral Triangle Adventures snorkeling trip to Wakatobi Resort on Tomia, we can all say without question, that the area lives up to its reputation!Many of the reefs around Wakatobi Resort fringe from the rugged limestone islands where a snorkeler can transition from the shoreline, through lush fields of sea grass, over mixed coral and rubble, ultimately to the reef margin where dramatic walls form at the surface and drop off vertically, reminiscent of a true barrier reef.

Aerial of snorkelers on the house reef in Wakatobi

Snorkelers…

Our time in the sea grass gave us the chance to see a variety of marine life including colorful sea stars, sea snakes (two species!), sea horses, pipefishes, lots of juvenile reef fishes, and a blue-ring octopus! And among lush coral gardens we not only had the chance to see a huge diversity of fish, but six species of moray eels, lots of nudibranchs, and plenty of critters such as Halloween hermit crabs, octopus, and egg cowries.

But it was the reef margin and walls that drew the most applause. The walls along the reef margin were simply incredible. The diversity and abundance of reef fishes are some of the highest in the world. Red-tooth triggerfish, pyramid butterflyfish, blue-stripe fusiliers, anthias, dameslfishes, and schools of jacks, snapper, rabbitfishes, and unicornfishes could be seen at almost any points along the walls. It was wall of coral on one side and wall of fish on the other!

Of course, our snorkeling tour would not be complete without a couple (well, three :-), night snorkels, and what better place to do them but on the house reef. It was so intense and productive in terms of the critters we saw that we will address our amazing time at night in a separate blog.

splendid dottyback photographed in Wakatobi - coral triangle adventures

A colorful…

reefs in wakatobi - coral triangle adventures

Lush and colorful…

redtooth triggerfish photographed in wakatobi - coral triangle adventures

Up close and…

seahorse photographed in wakatobi - coral triangle adventures

A tiny seahorse…

Cuttlefish in Wakatobi - coral triangle adventures

A cuttlefish…

A golden mantis shrimp photographed in Wakatobi - coral triangle adventures

The spearing…

Our time at Wakatobi Resort was fantastic. Easily some of the consistently best food I have eaten at any resort I have ever been to. The facilities and friendliness of the staff was second to none and we look forward to coming back to snorkel the reefs of Wakatobi in 2019!

 

close up of anemonefish photographed in Alor, Indoneisa

Alor 2018 Trip Report

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Alor, Indonesia 2018 Trip Report

Anthias fishes photographed in Alor, Indonesia - Coral Triangle Adventures

Clouds of Anthias!

Wow. That one word is certainly an apt description of the coral reef environments surrounding Alor. Of all the regions within the Coral Triangle, this may be the overall healthiest in regards to its corals. That says a lot. Coral Triangle Adventures just concluded its third exploration of Alor and the nearby islands westward towards Flores. As always, CTA strives to offer snorkeling in as many different underwater habitats as we can in any locale and our Alor trip offers a range of perfect snorkel sites.

Magnificent dartfish photographed in Alor, Indonesia - coral triangle adventures

Magnificent dartfish

After flying from Bali to Maumere on Flores with our group of intrepid snorkelers, we boarded the Pindito, our wonderful home for this exploration. Our first snorkeling foray brought us to the wide strait between Andonara and Solor Islands where we observed mixtures of corals, volcanic sands, and many fish, including a few juvenile Pinnate spadefish, juvenile Yellow boxfish, and the fascinating juvenile Barramundi cod. Next, we headed to an incredible reef area along the massive island of Pantar. With a beautiful white sand beach to one side, we drifted along a fringing reef that has to be seen to be believed. Millions of vibrant anthias, along with a myriad of other multicolored fish, fluttered in the current. Subsequently, our itinerary brought our group to the fascinating Beang-beang Bay on the southeastern coast of Pantar. This unique area is a blend of volcanic rocks and boulders, soft corals, and black sand where just about any type of critter could be expected. We spotted plenty of scorpionfish, a Pegasus sea moth, octopus, lots of juvenile Oriental sweetlips, and were also rewarded with rarely found Painted and Giant frogfish.

Aerial view of Alor

Bird’s eye view of Alor

In the midst of our trip we took one morning off from the wonderful snorkels to visit the mountain tribe of Abui near Kalabahi on Alor. This unique cultural opportunity gave us insights into at least one of the small, local societies that continue to thrive in this remote area. Afterwards, the Pindito brought us into the narrow Pantar straight separating Alor and Pantar. Here, several dramatic volcanoes rise from the seascape and provide plenty of underwater surface area for corals, fish, and dolphins to thrive. We spent several days investigating the assorted soft and hard coral reefs, which were among the healthiest CTA has seen on Earth. Ribbon eels, four different species of lionfish, five different moray eel species, Peacock mantis shrimp, Blacktip reef sharks, turtles, and clouds upon clouds of planktivorous anthias and damselfish highlighted the reefs here.

Eventually our time began to dwindle, as it always does, and we began our westward journey back towards Flores. But, we had time to spend a couple of days, as well as one night, snorkeling in the shadow of the impressive Ile Api volcano. The bay near this living part of the Ring of Fire contains dramatic reef dropoffs, fringing reefs, black sand, seagrass meadows, and even extensive mangroves. The bay provided us with views of Reef octopus, Fire dartfish, Robust ghost pipefish, Shortfin lionfish, small reef sharks, baby barracuda, and even a few individuals of a rare sea snake that we have yet to identify.

All in all, we had a fantastic time exploring this exotic region of islands. In part, CTA trips are so successful due to the gorgeous environments that we travel to, but the success also comes from the wonderful travelers who snorkel with us. Thank you goes to both the top notch crew of the Pindito as well as our CTA guests who made this another superlative adventure that we can look back upon and think ‘wow.’

We visit Alor as part of our Coral Triangle snorkeling tour in 2019 as well as a dedicated departure in 2020!

Researcher taking a photo ID of whale sharks in Donsol, Philippines. Coral Triangle Adventures

CTA supports Whale Shark Research in the Philippines

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Coral Triangle Adventures supports Whale Shark Research in the Philippines

Large Marine Vertebrates research Institute of the Philippines Logo - coral triangle adventuresPart of the origins of Coral Triangle Adventures began in the small, coastal village of Donsol, Sorsogon, Philippines. Dubbed the ‘whale shark capital of the world’, Donsol has been the place to go for exceptional encounters with whale sharks since the late 1990s. We have been bringing groups there for over a decade and over the years have grown to appreciate the local efforts to protect the whale shark and promote their conservation.

Working in the country since 2010, the Large Marine Vertebrate Research Institute of the Philippines (LAMAVE), registered as a Filipino non-profit NGO (non-government organization) to boost its work to promote conservation of marine biodiversity in the Philippines through scientific research. Of course, as their name implies, their main focus was, and still is, on the conservation of large marine animals such as whale sharks, rays, dolphins, and whales. Given their focus, the whale sharks of Donsol was an ideal place for them to learn more about the biology and ecology of whale sharks in the Philippines. They further compliment their scientific endeavors by providing their findings to local managers and also contribute as scientific advisors towards best management practices.

In 2016, CTA had a snorkeling trip to Sogod Bay, southern Leyte where we met up with our good friend Gonzalo Araujo, the executive director of LAMAVE. During his presentation, he talked about future projects in the Philippines and mentioned their proposal to study the movements of the whale sharks, in combination with the effort required by the local tour operators (in terms of time spent and distance traveled) to find whale sharks for their guests in Donsol. Their approach was elegant (as most good studies are); they wanted to secure 33 GPS trackers and place them on the 33 licensed tour boats that bring guests out to swim with the whale sharks. This would allow them to track the time spent and distance traveled for each boat and also get an idea of where whale sharks were spending their time during the day. At the time, the proposed research was in the funding stages and that’s where we came in :-)!

Given our close connectivity to LAMAVE, the focus subjects, and the community of Donsol, as well as our desire to see best management practices based on solid science, this was a no-brainer for us. We immediately decided to fund their work and helped them purchase the needed GPS trackers. The project is currently moving forward with great zest and we look forward to seeing the results. We are proud to support LAMAVE and their goals of increasing knowledge through scientific research, and are confident that it will lead to best management practices so that both the whale sharks and local stakeholders have a successful relationship for years to come.

Please click here to learn more about LAMAVE and how you can donate to their organization. In most cases, donations directly support local Filipino students and researchers in their endeavors to protect and conserve populations of large marine vertebrates in the Philippines.

Please also keep an eye out for our special Philippines snorkeling tour in 2020!

nembrotha kubaryana, Raja Ampat Indonesia, Coral triangle adventures

Surrounded by nudibranchs!

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Setting up marine life ‘themes’ on our snorkeling tours is something we’ve been doing for many years. Whether it would be butterflyfish, scorpionfish, or shells the goal for us and the guests is to find and identify as many as we can during our snorkeling expedition. We then collect all of the photos and present them to everyone in a poster format. Raja Ampat has always been one of the best places for snorkelers to see nudibranchs. Many nudibranchs feed on tunicates, sponges, and cnidarians and in Raja Ampat many of these organisms can be found in high abundance in usually less than 0.5m of water! The poster was set up with 24 slots to be filled by the species that we find and photograph, and admittedly, in the beginning of the trip, 24 slots might have been a bit ambitious. I say this because the last time we did this poster, we found a total of 17 species of nudibranch and ended up including sea slugs to ‘beef up’ the number of sightings. At the end of this trip, however, 24 slots proved to not be enough! We saw a total of 31 different species of nudibranchs (true nudibranchs, so the number goes much higher if we include sap-sucking slugs, head-shield slugs, etc…). Raja Ampat always amazes us and never fails to raise the bar on so many levels. Here is the fruits of our labor, a full size poster of some of the more colorful and engaging nudibranchs found on shallow tropical reefs..

We visit Raja Ampat again in Jan 2019!

manta rays gliding over reefs in Raja AMpat, photographed by coral triangle adventures

Raja Ampat, Feb 2018 Trip Report

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Aerial photographed in Wayag, Raja Ampat by coral triangleadventures

Aerial of Wayag

Do I begin with how awesome our group of snorkelers were or how fantabulous the actual snorkeling was during our latest venture in Raja Ampat? I guess it doesn’t matter as we, once again, had a wonderful exploration of the many islands found off the Bird’s Head Peninsula of Indonesia. As is well known, this equatorial region is often referred to as the “heart of the Coral Triangle” due to its incredible marine biodiversity – perhaps the greatest on Earth. Each of CTA’s trips through Raja Ampat aims to expose our guests to not only spectacular coral reefs but also other types of healthy marine habitats and this particular trip brought us to blue water mangroves, seagrass meadows, and various reef types that flourish throughout the islands.

colorful soft corals in raja ampat, indonesia, taken by coral triangle adventures

Soft corals in Raja Ampat

Our first itinerary of 2018 brought us from Sorong to the island of Batanta and then northwards along the western edge of Raja Ampat’s largest island, Waigeo. We subsequently sailed over the equator to the stunningly beautiful limestone islands of Wayag eventually turning southward, towards the Dampier Strait where swift water flow attracts massive schools of fish.

Split photography of reef in Raja Ampat taken by coral triangle adventures

Common reef scene…

The first half of any trip through Raja Ampat is often overwhelming in terms of how many species are found in the shallow water habitats. But once snorkelers get a handle on the area’s ‘usual suspects’ of innumerable nudibranchs, cuttlefish, butterflyfish, angelfish, parrotfish, wrasse, etc., they begin noticing the more unusual species. A few remarkable animals we encountered included Solar-powered nudibranchs, Pygmy cuttlefish, Pewter angelfish, juvenile Six-banded angelfish and juvenile Regal angelfish, an ultra-rare Marble-mouth frogfish, and one of my favorites – a juvenile Pinnate batfish. As is par for the course in Raja Ampat, we came across a well-camouflaged Tasseled wobbegong and another carpet shark, what I believe was a Japanese wobbegong. Our group also had the opportunity to get close encounters with Hawksbill turtles and watch eight majestic manta rays being cleaned on a shallow reef-ridge.

manta rays in raja ampat, photographed by coral triangle adventures

Manta Rays…

Each time Coral Triangle Adventures runs a trip to Raja Ampat I am reminded of how special and unique this remote region truly is. Although the region is now in the public eye and is well known for its extraordinary amount of tropical marine life it still retains its magic and mystery of how it has become the home for so many colorful and bizarre organisms.

 

We visit Raja Ampat again in Jan 2019!

Juvenile ocellated parrotfish taken in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Being Juvenile in Raja Ampat

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Snorkeling in Raja Ampat gives us the chance to see not only a huge diversity of adult reef fishes, but also dozens of juvenile fishes as well. Many juvenile reef fishes spend their ‘early years’ on shallow, protected reefs where they can hide amongst the variety of corals, sea grasses or mangroves. More often than not juveniles are more colorful than adults, or display color patterns that can be described as aposematic (warning colors), or mimic other fish as a potential defensive strategy. Here’s my collection (not complete by the way, there are just too many) of juvenile fishes we saw on our recent trip to Raja Ampat

Click on the photo to learn a bit more about juvenile coloration and behavior…

A juvenile regal angelfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile regal angelfish

A juvenile semicircle angelfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile semicircle angelfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

A juvenile twinspine angelfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile twinspine angelfish

A juvenile freckled hawkfish taken in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile freckled hawkfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

A juvenile sailfin tang photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile sailfin tang

A juvenile ornate butterflyfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile ornate butterflyfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

A juvenile pacific longnose parrotfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile parrotfish

A juvenile mimic surgeonfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile mimic surgeonfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

A juvenile leopard wrasse photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile leopard wrasse

Juvenile Javanese damselfish taken in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile java damsel

 

 

 

 

 

 

A juvenile yellow boxfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile yellow boxfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

We will be visiting Raja Ampat again for sure (click here for more information) and I am already excited to see many more of the juvenile fishes!