From the rare and bizarre to the beautiful and breathtaking, the animals seen on this trip were incredible. In just over a week on the water, we snorkeled our way from Waigeo in the north down to the island of Misool in the south. After we all met up in Jakarta and flew east to Sorong, we boarded the Gaia Love, a gorgeous and spacious vessel that would serve as our home for the following week of snorkeling. As we cruised north across the Dampier Strait on the first day, we were greeted by shearwaters and frigate birds soaring over the water and a pod of Spinner Dolphins alongside the boat.With the travel day behind us, we awoke in Alyui Bay to start our snorkeling. Right from the get-go, we were seeing colorful critters from nudibranchs and peacock mantis shrimp to a myriad of brilliant reef fish. After lunch, we were able to visit a local pearl farm and witness the impressive dexterity required to extract pearls from oysters, before hopping back in the water to find more nudibranchs and our first of many Banded Sea Kraits. The next day, we stayed in Alyui, and we hit the critter jackpot: Reef stonefish, spiny devilfish, seahorses, and even the incredibly rare flamboyant cuttlefish! When anyone got close to this marvelous little cephalopod, it instantly changed from camouflaged brown to a bold palette of white, yellow, black, and pink. Here we also had great views of Tasseled Wobbegong.
After two days in Alyui Bay, we headed southwards along Waigeo to Pef, where we snorkeled along a beautiful fringing reef and found a large mottled green crocodilefish and a tiny but stunning nudibranch, the creamy Chromodoris. We also managed to spy another rare cephalopod, the dwarf cuttlefish, hanging out in some seagrass near the end of the snorkel.
Continuing south along the western edge of Waigeo to Gam and Yangeffo, we found our third species of cuttlefish for the trip, the large broadclub, which dazzled everyone with its color-changing abilities during a long, intimate encounter with the whole group. Close inspections of Nephthea soft corals brought views of the adorable Minute Filefish, almost perfectly camouflaged among the soft pink cauliflower-like branches. Much less camouflaged was a clearfin lionfish, boldly perched against a large rock in the shallows, confident that its venomous spines would keep us snorkelers at bay.
Overnight we powered south to Misool, where we would find some of the fishiest reefs of the entire trip. Huge schools of Chromis and silversides swarmed over really healthy coral reefs, and a few schools of squid graced us with their presence as they swam nearby in deeper water. Here we also got to see one of Raja Ampat’s endemic species – the Raja epaulette shark, which is less than a meter long and looks like a leopard-print iguana. Our last evening in Misool, we hopped out of the water and into the dinghies for a little tour of the nearby islands. Sheer limestone cliffs studded with carnivorous pitcher plants contrasted with gorgeous turquoise waters, giving us all the feeling of being transported back in time, to some prehistoric untouched wilderness.
The trip ended with a “Bang!” on the north coast of Batanta, where we floated over a number of enormous manta rays at a cleaning station. With just a little bit of current to fight against to keep the mantas in view, everyone earned their dessert that day! The final snorkel of the trip was more mellow, with no current to speak of but still plenty of fish. A beautiful fringing reef along a plateau of seagrass and white sand was enjoyed by all, with chocolate-chip sea stars in the shallows and one last broadclub cuttlefish along the coral-laden slope.
In just a week, we travelled 400 nautical miles around Raja Ampat and were rewarded with spectacular views, pictures, and experiences that will never be forgotten.