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soft corals and anthias - coral triangle adventures

Papua New Guinea trip report 2019

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After a short flight from Port Moresby to Rabaul, located on the northeastern tip of the island of New Britain, our intrepid group of snorkelers boarded the MV Febrina. Shortly after settling in the ship weighed anchor and we sailed towards New Ireland where we woke to spectacular lagoon scenery, surrounded by beaches and thick jungle. For the next two days we explored the fringing coral reefs and sand habitats that grew along this attractive island. The area provided our snorkelers with a special, close up view of several Estuarine seahorses, and those who waited around eventually saw one pair mating!

a clown nudibranch lays a series of egg cases in Papua New Guinea - coral triangle adventures

Clown nudibranch…

Next we headed southwestward, far down the southern coast of New Britain, a locale near Gasmata that rarely (if ever) has seen a snorkeler. A beautiful barrier reef protected a large lagoon with several idyllic islands scattered about. The varied reefs were full of life. Hard and soft corals competed for space to grow while small, vibrant reef fish, including thousands of planktivorous Redfin anthias and Chromis, fluttered all about. While at least a handful of anemonefish species were prevalent on every snorkel, the Bonnethead anemonefish was certainly a highlight seen quite often. This geographically-limited species is now known to be a hybrid and is often found living with Orange anemonefish or Orangefin anemonefish.

Aerial photography in Papua New Guinea - coral triangle adventures

Stunning aerial in PNG

Islands within the barrier reef offered sand habitats mixed with coral reef and thus great areas for snorkelers to discover critters. A number of pipefish species ranged in this area along with Raggy scorpionfish, lionfish, flatworms and some gorgeous nudibranchs including the dorid Gymnodoris ceylonica. These amazing nudibranchs occasionally engage in mass movements into shallow water to spawn and we witnessed this! We found double digit G. celonica gathering on a sand slope where they laid eggs and searched for mates. On this same site was a Ribbon eel, Peacock flounder, and many Sap-sucking slugs.

white bonnet anemonefish photographed in Papua New Guinea - coral triangle adventures

White bonnet anemonefish

The Febrina then sailed northeast, bringing our group to the lush islands within Waterfall Bay, one of the wettest spots on Earth. Yes, there was a pretty waterfall that poured into a shallow, clear river which then entered the bay. Reef-building corals were prolific in this bay and while we drifted on the surface we were treated to the sight of a herd of 30 massive Bumphead parrotfish grazing on boulder corals, Palette surgeonfish, and a few Napolean wrasse.

Before heading back to Port Moresby, we ended our snorkeling trip exploring a tiny, heavenly island, called Pigeon Island, just north of Rabaul. Just below the surface, robust, reef-building corals thrived on top of the reef flat but much of the action was found along the reef crest where a vertical wall dropped into the blue. Hundreds of species of fish were found feeding in this gorgeous spot. All in all, Papua New Guinea offered some wonderful snorkeling and certainly reminded us that picturesque, remote locations still exist on this water-covered planet!

We hope to return here in 2022 (I know, it seems so long from now), but between now and then, perhaps a session in Raja Ampat or Palau?

Cardinalfishes congregate around large coral colonies - photographed in Raja Ampat by coral triangle adventures

Raja Ampat Feb 2019 Trip Report

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Hundreds of limestone islands can be found near the southeastern coast of Misool, Raja Ampat - coral triangle adventures

Limestone islands…

Coral Triangle Adventures began 2019 with a bang on a snorkeling trip to one of our most beloved areas – Raja Ampat. Having run trips to this astounding region for over ten years we continue to find new and rare species on untouched reef sites where snorkelers find themselves in nirvana. Our first adventure in 2019 was no exception.

Beautiful soft corals in Raja Ampat - Coral triangle adventures

Lush soft corals…

We first journeyed south from Sorong and found ourselves among the numerous limestone islands southeast of Misool. Amazing coral reefs thrive in this part of southern Raja Ampat. Reef-building corals mix with shallow soft corals creating colorful, living gardens of marine life. A multitude of small reef fish and invertebrates thrive in this aesthetic setting. After a couple of days exploring this area we worked our way northwards towards Batanta where we were treated to a fantastic swim with at least five resident manta rays. Observing these incredibly majestic creatures, with wingspans up to 10 feet wide, is always a treat and we had virtually unlimited time with them as they kept returning again and again to a shallow cleaning station. This same day our group took a short break from the water to investigate a beautiful waterfall well hidden in a mist-covered rainforest nearby. The short walk to this gem of a waterfall showed us the lushness of this area’s jungles.

Snorkeling with mantas in Raja Ampat can be a thrilling experience - coral triangle adventures

Snorkeling with…

From Bantanta, our ship, the Gaia Love, continued north and we spent a few days along the western edge of Raja Ampat’s largest island, Waigeo. This area provided us with unique snorkel sites where vibrant tunicates, sponges, and soft corals merge and form living walls of color. Among this amazing menagerie we spotted nudibranchs galore and many fish including Pewter angelfish, Splendid dottybacks, and ornate ghost pipefish. Other highlights found in this bio-rich area included an estuarian seahorse, a Tasseled wobbegong, a juvenile broadclub cuttlefish, and even an uber-rare Flamboyant cuttlefish!

Moving southward again, back towards the Dampier Strait and accompanied by stellar weather, we encountered stunning reefs fringing mangrove-laden islands north of the island of Gam. Velutinid snails, Signal gobies, spawning Blue-green damselfish, yellowbarred jawfish, Banded sea kraits, and many, many other species were spotted on these reefs.

lettuce coral under mangroves, Raja Ampat - coral triangle adventures

healthy stands of…

The next couple of days included reef flats and slopes where we were able to view a number of well-camouflaged crocodilefish, juvenile Many-spotted sweetlips, a rare swimming Brown-banded bamboo shark, and even a pair of dugong swam by our group in the distance. Finishing off our snorkeling in the renowned Dampier Strait, we encountered large schools of bumphead parrotfish, hawksbill and green turtles, blacktip sharks cruising in the shallows, broadclub cuttlefish, and to top if off an all-black manta ray cruised beneath us capping off a truly wonderful journey.

Our next tour to Raja Ampat is Feb 2020, please email us to find out how you can join!

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.

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!

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!

Choclate chip sea stars in Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Raja Ampat, Nov 2017 Trip Report

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Table corals on a reef in Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Table corals

Another superlative CTA excursion through the very heart of the Coral Triangle! We are just back from our latest journey through the islands of Raja Ampat and we’re still bathing in the afterglow of the experience. Our trip began with wonderful weather and though we had a bit of rain here and there during the course of the route that never took away from the area’s magnificent underwater backdrops. Raja Ampat covers a massive area with hundreds of islands so it could never be adequately covered during just one snorkeling trip. Thus, we decided to focus on the northern islands above Sorong and charted a unique route that took us through the area’s wide-ranging marine habitats.

Aerial view of Wayag northern Raja Ampat

Wayag Islands

Every one of CTA’s trips is an exclusively-crafted itinerary, specific to the locale, the weather, the marine life and the underwater conditions. From Sorong we headed into the blue waters along northern Batanta then sailed along western Waigeo and across the equator to the spectacular limestone islands of Wayag. Working our way back down towards the famed and fishy waters of the Dampier Strait we explored off-the-beaten-path reefs that offered up some unbelievable and unforgettable gems. A few of the numerous highlights from this adventure include watching an incredibly rare Hairy octopus’ escapades, finding a trio of minute Crinoid cuttlefish fight for the right to mate with a female, and watching the shy behaviors of one of the most extraordinary reef fish in these waters, a Picturesque dragonet.

Coral gardens in Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Colorful coral garden

As always we were able to find a plethora of vibrant nudibranchs and other bizarrely-colored invertebrates but we also had some time to watch the behaviors of big fish, such as Bumphead parrotfish feeding, Tasseled wobbeong sharks camouflaging themselves on the seafloor, and huge resident manta rays visiting their cleaning stations.

Aerial view of Yangefo off the coast of Gam, Raja Ampat

Yangefo, Raja Ampat

It is not only the astonishing wildlife and delightful scenery we consistently get to observe, but the people who come with CTA who make our trips ones to remember. Our unfailingly passionate and inquisitive group of avid snorkelers create the best atmosphere one can imagine for exploring the shallow marine habitats of the Coral Triangle.

blue ring octopus photographed in the Banda Islands

Banda Islands Trip Report, Nov 2017

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colorful corals around Misool, Raja Ampat, photographed by Coral Triangle Adventures

Colorful reefs can be…

Admittedly, I am always excited to visit the Banda Islands for the historical content, but almost within the first moment that my facemask hits the water, I am reminded why I really love this place…the snorkeling! The reefs in the Banda Islands are still some of the most spectacular in the world. Every one of them, from Pulau Run to Pulau Hatta offers incredibly colorful and lush shallow reefs that seemed to be home to just about every species tropical fish in Indonesia! And each one of them is different enough to provide a unique backdrop to our activities.

bumphead parrotfish photographed in the Banda Islands - coral triangle adventures

Bumphead parrotfish

Pulau Run and Pulau Ai, the two westernmost islands in the cluster of 10 volcanic or limestone islands that make up the Banda Island group, have extensive fringing reefs that harbor an incredible diversity of both hard and soft corals. On Pulau Run we were visited several times by a large school of very large bumphead parrotfish as they made their way up and down the reef looking for a good coral head to graze upon. Pulau Ai had just enough current to allow us to drift down the reef and watch as reef life unfolded as we passed by.

Api volcano, Banda Niera, For Belgica aerial

Aerial view…

Moving eastward, we pulled into the historical harbor of Banda Niera and had the chance to visit Fort Belgica, one of the oldest standing forts built by the Dutch in the 17th century. But the highlight was our snorkel site called Lavaflow. In 1988, the volcano Api erupted spewing lava and lahar down the eastern flanks. The flow spilled into the water killing the vibrant reef that fringed from the shores. The story, however, has a great ending. The reefs that subsequently grew on top of the cooled and solidified magma are now as lush and diverse as they ever were! From huge stands of both hard and soft corals to the hundreds of species of reef fishes, this reef kept us entertained for hours and we only explored less than half of the total area!

mandarinfish photographed in Banda Islands - coral triangle adventures

Mandarinfish

Later that afternoon, we visited the shores along Banda Niera to find the colorful mandarinfish. Again, no disappointment here as the mandarinfish were plentiful (we saw over 20 individuals), shallow (about 2-3 feet), and active. Our time around Banda Besar, Pulau Pisang, and Pulau Hatta were equally exciting with highlights that included blue-ring octopus, sharks, large Napolean wrasses, and a variety of habitats to explore.

From the Bandas, we set course to Raja Ampat with a day’s stop at Koon, an island off the eastern coast of Ceram. Koon gave us glimpses of what reef life would be like in an undisturbed environment. Big fish, big corals, and plenty of both throughout the entire length of the reef.

micro-atolls photographed in Raja Ampat by Coral Triangle Adventures

Micro-atolls…

Most of our time in Raja Ampat was spent around Misool and Batanta. Both islands possess incredible reefs and are some of the most scenic in terms of tropical island settings. My favorite things to see around the limestone islands of Misool are the shallow reefs that have ‘micro-atolls’, or types of coral growth where a massive coral (usually a species of Porites), limited by the shallow water, grows laterally rather than upward with a center that is often colonized by other corals. Misool is also known for a huge diversity if fish and we sure did get to see that on just about every snorkel.

Batanta island offers snorkelers the chance to see protected fringing reefs with some of the highest diversity of corals in Raja Ampat. Along with the thousands of fish that converge around the reef margins, the protected habitats also support a variety of cryptic critters like scorpionfishes, seahorses, crab-eyed gobies, and cuttlefishes. The protected habitats also give us the chance to see a good number of juvenile reef fishes such as juvenile barramundi cod, javanese damselfish, and several species of sweetlips.

Did I mention the weather? During our entire time onboard, including the three major sailings each no less than 10 hours in open sea, we experienced no more than a ripple on the ocean’s surface. Add that to incredible sunsets and we just about lucked out with the best weather imaginable.

group photo for coral triangle adventures tour Raja Ampat and Banda Islands

Group photo!

As we finished our epic program, cruising over 500 nautical miles from Ambon via the Banda Islands to Raja Ampat, we reflected on what a great trip this was. The Pindito was about as perfect as you could ask for. A great boat with an equally great crew and we very much thank them for making this a special trip for all of us. We absolutely look forward to working witht hem again on another snorkeling tour to the Bandas. Next time, however, the Banda Islands are worthy of a longer stay and our program will focus squarely on this amazing little cluster of islands in the middle of the Banda Sea. Look for it in 2020!