In the early years of this century a new name caused sensation in the world of marine biologist and divers: “Raja Ampat”! This remote area was newly discovered as the place with the richest variety of marine species in the world and with an ecosystem very well intact. An incredible 75% of all known coral species (537 species confirmed) appear to live in its seas. The amount of fish species count more than 1000. The density of marine life is as well amazing. The reefs of Raja Ampat are just as varied as the marine life. There are vertical walls, reef flats, slopes, sea mounts, mucky mangroves, lagoons and pinnacles.
Several teams of biologists and divers visited this area and nearly all discovered new species. Reports of visits were published on websites of environmental organizations and later articles in all major dive magazines and National Geographic Magazine followed. And all this did not stop: more enthusiastic stories still appear in the media.
Raja Ampat is all about diversity – not only diversity of species, but also of dive sites. There are some areas where soft corals and sea fans dominate, others with amazing diverse hard corals, seagrass beds, mangroves, shallow reefs, drop offs, caves, black sand, white sand.
Then there are the fish, lots of them, in more shapes and sizes than anywhere else in the world. Not only are there loads of fish, but all the levels of the food chain are well represented – from pygmy seahorses to top predators. In many places brightly coloured soft corals can be found close to the surface which, illuminated by natural sunlight, make these dive sites spectacularly vibrant.
Wayag Raja Ampat
What changed about Raja Ampat is that the area nowadays is better accessible for guests. When in the past groups had to charter their own boat and do a lot of the preparations themselves, nowadays scheduled trips with full service (most on liveaboards) are organized for visiting the area.
Raja Ampat (meaning “the four kings” in Indonesian) comprises a group of 610 Islands in the west of Indonesia’s province West Papua. The bigger islands are Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool, of which the largest, Waigeo, measures 120 km across. Many of the smaller islands have the size of a big rock and do not have a name. Raja Ampat covers a total land and sea area of 40,000 km2 (9,800,000 acres).
Raja Ampat is sparsely populated: only 35 of the 610 islands are inhabited. Most of the people live in very basic circumstances. The organizations The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and Coral Reef Alliance are working with the Indonesian government in the planning and management of the marine resources by providing technical assistance, expert advice and education. These programmes would allow local communities to benefit from their marine resources while ensuring fish stocks are protected in no-take areas. Next to that they support the development of economic alternatives through sustainable tourism and ongoing education. Raja Ampat is part of the area named “the Coral Triangle”, what is considered the heart of the world’s coral reef biodiversity.
The small town of Sorong in West Papua is the main place for access to this destination. This is as well the town where most of the Raja Ampat cruises start. Flights to and from Sorong are scheduled via Makassar or Manado on Sulawesi.