Raja Ampat

Located off the northwest tip of Bird's Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea, Raja Ampat, or the Four Kings, is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays and shools surrounding the four main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo. It encompasses more than 9.8 million acres (40,000 km²) of land and sea, which also contains Cenderawasih Bay, the largest marine national park in Indonesia. It is a part of the newly named province of Papua Barat (West Papua) of Indonesia which was formerly Irian Jaya.

According to the Conservation International Rapid Assessment Bulletin the marine life diversity is considerably greater than all other areas sampled in the Coral Triangle of Indonesia, Philippines and Papua New Guinea. The Coral Triangle is the heart of the world's coral reef biodiversity, the seas around Raja Ampat are possibly the richest in the world. The area's massive coral colonies show that its reefs are resistant to threats like coral bleaching and disease - threats that now jeopardise the survival of corals around the world. The area is remote and relatively untouched by humans. In addition, Raja Ampat's strong ocean currents sweep coral larvae across the Indian and Pacific Oceans to replenish other reef ecosystems. Raja Ampat's coral diversity, resilience, and ability to replenish reefs make it a global priority for marine protection, as human activity here has the potential to be catastrophic.

With over 1,070 fish species, 537 coral species (a remarkable 96% of all scleratinia recorded from Indonesia are likely to occur in these islands), and 699 mollusc species, the variety of marine life is staggering. Some areas boast enormous schools of fish and regular sightings of sharks, such as wobbegongs, white- and blacktip reef sharks, grey reefs and occasionally silver tip sharks occur. Also you are likely to have memorable encounters with rays such as manta rays, marbled rays or even eagle rays.

The habitats in the Raja Ampat archipelago are incredibly various - at some sites like the Passage, as it is known, you feel like you're on a river, skirting a maze of little rocks, islands, and patches of mangrove, with thick jungle alive with birdsong on the banks.

When the sun is shining, it lights up soft corals and rocks, large fans and oversized barrel sponges. Catch it on a day with good visibility – best on a flooding tide – and it truly looks like a living kaleidoscope. Every time your eyes move, you discover new shapes, patterns, markings, eyes – marine life at its richest. Soft corals, huge sponges and gorgonian fans grow up to the surface and even beyond on the low tide, as if trying to kiss the jungle fronds above. Fallen trees are immediately taken over and inhabited by sponges, worms, soft corals, shellfish and invertebrates. Life is fast in this channel – eat or be eaten. Finding a quiet spot in one of the niches, we will definitely take some time to check out some of the well camouflaged critters. Juvenile cuttlefish or octopi, luminous nudibranches or squat little lobsters are common sightings in the channel. Out in the middle, you might chance upon the bizarre looking wobbegong sharks or yellowtail barracudas or sea turtles.

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