Saltwater-logged cameras don’t take very good images. In fact, they don’t take images at all. No matter how much you stare at them when they are drying on a lungi in a patch of sunlight on the littoral forest floor. And so, following a near-capsize of my boat last March, an expensive heap of soggy Nikon gear, painstakingly collected over 8 years, was sold as scrap for a few thousand rupees.
After eight frustrating months of itching to get back underwater with a camera, I find myself in a place I have wanted to dive since my first travels to Indonesia in 1998. Raja Ampat – the heart of the Coral Triangle. Heaven on a coral reef!!
Fan coral and fusiliers
The Coral Triangle is an area of ocean and reef bounded by Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. About half the size of the US, this area is home to more marine species than anywhere else on the planet. Seventy-five percent – almost 600 different types – of the world’s coral species are found in the Coral Triangle! And these in turn provide refuge for nearly two thousand different types of reef fish!
And Raja Ampat is where most of them seem to want to hang out. With arguably the highest marine biodiversity in the world, this archipelago boasts some of the richest, healthiest coral reef ecosystems.
Deciding where to point my lens was hard, hard work…but somebody had to do it!!
Every square inch carpeted in healthy coral
Sponges like bagpipes
Fan coral, Porites and a sea star
A curious cuttlefish
Anemone and Staghorn coral
An anemone with its residents
And copious copious amounts of fish
With my own observations of damaged, struggling coral on many reefs across South Asia and constant newsflashes about rising ocean temperatures, acidification and bleaching, being surrounded by the incredible coral cover on the reefs of Raja Ampat was exceptionally heartwarming. But the real jaw-droppers for me are always the creatures that I have read much about but never actually seen. Enter the Wobbegong – one near the top of a long list of what I call Beautifully Bizarre. And with about 20 of them on one of the night dives, I got my up-close-and-personal fill of these strange sharks.
Wobbegongs sit so still they often have other creatures walking over or sitting atop them. In this instance this starfish slowly walked across the Wobbegong’s face, stepping ponderously on both its eyes
A Tassled Wobbegong on the move
Bamboo Sharks come out at night and walk the seafloor in search of food
The eye of a Scribbled Pufferfish
And then there are the clear water mangroves. The edge between land and ocean, sea and sky, in Raja Ampats mangrove systems is something out of a fairytale. In clear waters, sometimes only a foot or two deep, the corals cast their reflections on the glassy underneath of the ocean surface. Bright green mangrove leaves peep down into the water, curious almost. Red roots encrusted with an assortment of life form an underwater refuge for all sorts of reef fish.
Coral reef thrives all the way up and slightly into the mangrove roots
Cardinal fish amidst the roots
An incredible meeting of the aquatic and the terrestrial
Above the waves, Raja Ampat is a gorgeous mix of rainforest covered islands, karst cliffs and ridges that emerge from the sea in incredible formations creating picture postcard inlets and bays. While a diving live-aboard is a fantastic way of seeing the underwater magic of this area, I hope to spend more time walking these incredible islands on my next visit.
Raja Ampat above the waves