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.
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.
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
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.