For the first Coral Triangle Adventures trip of 2020 we embarked on a special snorkel journey that began in Sorong, skirted the outermost islands of Halmahera in the Molucca Sea and then returned through the northern islands of Raja Ampat. The weather was spectacular throughout the voyage, entrancing us with glassy seas and just a light breeze each afternoon.
Arriving in Sorong from Jakarta, we boarded the Mermaid I, one of our favorite vessels that works with CTA in several Indonesian locales. Soon we headed north into the Dampier Straight and began our thrilling underwater experiences there at a small island south of Kabui Bay. The following day found us doing two snorkeling sites along the north coast of Batanta. The second site gave our group some fleeting but memorable glimpses of some unique manta rays. Feeding near our moored boat were several white mantas. Almost all white with black streaks along their dorsal sides, they seemed the exact opposite coloration of most mantas. In old-school film speak it was as if we were viewing negatives of the original versions. Incredible!
Peeking under the waves
After an easy overnight sail, we woke up in an incredibly aesthetic part of Kofiau, an island group on the edge of the Molucca Sea. This was day of exploratory snorkels, knowing that few, if anyone, had ever donned fins and mask to explore the reefs here. Shallow, delicate coral colonies encircled the many islands in this group, two of which we chose as sites to investigate in detail. Javanese damselfish, Clown triggerfish, Reef octopus, Orangutan crabs, and many, many other reef animals showed their colors to us in this area.
The subsequent day found us on the southern coast of another stunning island group called Pulau Boo. Technically, these beautiful islands are part of Halmahera and again, little known to people outside of local fishermen. Quaint wooden huts sat on spindly stilts built along the lagoon here. Coconut palms dominated the small, sandy islands and again, shallow, fringing reefs meandered along the edges. Planktivorous fish swarmed above the hearty reefs while we swam in search of Yellowspotted scorpionfish and other rarities such as Leaf Scorpionfish.
Sea fan photo-bombed
As the sun angled downward on this stunning area, the Mermaid turned northeast and made its way overnight to Penemu back in Raja Ampat. Morning brought us glorious sunshine and excellent visibility while we drifted slowly along walls covered by Tubastrea, soft corals, and sea fans. Threadfin anthias reflected colorful light as they swam above Coral groupers, Lined sweetlips, Semicircle angelfish, and several species of fusiliers.
After Penemu, we repositioned further north into Alyui Bay. As always, this area provided breathtaking snorkels and many rarities as the underwater habitats here are the definition of unique. Just a few of the highlights in this area were Tasseled wobbegongs, Reef stonefish, a multitude of nudibranchs, and one of the most uncommon fish in Raja Ampat, the White-Bonnet anemonefish – a relatively new addition to the known species within this biodiverse region.
Aerial in Raja Ampat
Two days later we did a special snorkel into Secret Bay, a well-hidden lagoon dotted by dozens of limestone islands on the north coast of Pulau Gam. Perfect conditions allowed us to gently drift over slopes of gorgonians and past bright orange Scleranephthya soft corals that lined the channel walls. Later in the day we experienced a wonderful snorkel in Pef, another group of rock islands, which was home to Pygmy cuttlefish, Signal gobies, Velutinid snails, Variable jawfish and even Ornate ghost pipefish.
The last few days of this magical journey were spent in the lush channel between Gam and Yangeffo Islands and then the famed Dampier Strait. Broadclub cuttlefish, Radial filefish, Pinnate spadefish, and schools of Two-spot snapper were just a few of the creatures of interest in Yangeffo and the Dampier Strait was overflowing with schooling fish and offered close views of Hawksbill turtles feeding.
All in all our time exploring the islands and reefs in the Halmahera and Raja Ampat regions was fabulous. We couldn’t have asked for better weather or better underwater scenery so undoubtedly Coral Triangle Adventures will continue to explore this amazing part of the planet.