Saturday, April 26, 2014

Raja Ampat - The Richest Coral Reef on Earth & Indonesia’s Top Liveaboard Diving Destination

On the top of the coral hill
Well.. this is probably the most anticipated post. And this is gonna be the greatest trip I ever had in my entire life. I'm so excited and antusiastic to tell you about amazing Raja Ampat, West Papua.

Perhaps Indonesian people quite familiar with Raja Ampat, an archipelago in western Papua with beautiful beaches, unique cultural and rich of coral reef. But now let me give a detil information about this amazing place that I summarized from many sources on internet. Check it out guys!!

Home to more than ten times the number of hard coral species found in the Caribbean, Raja Ampat is legendary among experienced scuba divers as one of the top liveboard dive destinations in the entire world. And there is so much more to learn about Raja Ampat (which when translated in English means "The Four Kings"). The first comprehensive scientific survey of the area was only conducted in 2001, a record-breaking census with found nearly 1,000 tropical fish species-many of the species discovered had been preveiously unknown.

Where is Raja Ampat?

Raja Ampat Islands Map
The Raja Ampat archipelago, part of Coral Triangle, located at the northwest corner of Indonesia's West Papua province, encompassing 40,000 km2 of land and sea and including a series of more than 1,500 islands which sorround the main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo. Raja Ampat Regency is a new regency which separated from Sorong Regency in 2004 and Waisai in Waigeo Island as the capital city.

Located at the intersection of the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, Raja Ampat has been described as a "species factory". Powerful deep-sea currents funnel nutrients into Raja Ampat's delicate fringing coral reefs, blue water drop-offs, mangrove flats, and sea-grass beds to form the foundation of the food chain which feeds a spectaculer diversity of marine life.


White sand beach in Piaynemo Island
The name of Raja Ampat comes from local mythology that tells about a woman who finds seven eggs. Four of the seven eggs hatch and become kings that occupy four of Raja Ampat biggest islands whilst the other three become a ghost, a woman, and a stone.

History shows that Raja Ampat was once a part of Sultanate of Tidore, an influential kingdom from Maluku. Yet, after the Dutch invaded Maluku, it was shortly claimed by the Netherlands. The main occupation for people around this area is fishing since the area is dominated by the sea. They live in a small colony of tribes that spreads around the area. Although traditional culture still strongly exists, they are very welcoming to visitors. Their religion is dominantly Christian.

Confirmed - Raja Ampat Islands Contain World's Richest Coral Reefs

Some of the world's most experienced tropical marine scientists, led by The Nature Conservancy, completed a 3 week expedition to the Indonesian islands of Raja Ampat, where they confirmed that the area contains the richest coral reefs in the world.

Piaynemo Island where we can see many baby sharks closely
The scientists found that the number of reef fish and coral species in the area is even greater than previously expected. At least 465 coral species were recorded, with at least 20 species defying identification and under further study. This brings the total confirmed corals from the Raja Ampat islands to 505 species, which is an incredible 64% of all known coral species in the world. 

During the trip, 828 fish species were recorded, adding an additional 95 (including 4 new to Indonesia) and raising the known total for Raja Ampat to 1,065 species - amongst the highest diversity in the world. A new personal record of 284 fish species on 1 single dive in Raja Ampat was set by Dr. Gerry Allen at Kofiau Island. When lab results on marine samples are completed, the scientists expect to find species of fish and coral that are new to science.

Wayag Islands

Wayag Islands

The spectacular Wayag Islands are without a doubt the subject of the most commonly seen photographs of Raja Ampat and are the number one item on most visitors' lists of things to see, but very similar iconic views can be more easily had elsewhere.

The conical karst island seascape of Pulau Wayag is Raja Ampat's poster child. You won't see a tourism promotion or magazine article about Raja Ampat that doesn't feature the islands and their surrounding sapphire seas, but Wayag is not easy to get to and is quite expensive to visit. Lying to the north west of Waigeo, Wayag is a round trip of over 300km (~200 miles) from Waisai. There's no accommodation in the Wayag group, so if you want to visit you'll be up for a long day trip from wherever you are staying.

Is Wayag closed?

In October 2013 Wayag's traditional owners closed public access to the islands. Although some travellers still manage to make the journey, visiting Wayag has remained difficult ever since.

Piaynemo Island "Small Wayag Island"
Wayag's traditional owners live on Kawe and have seen little of the money being spent by tourists visiting Wayag. Tour operators bypass Kawe on the way to Wayag and none of the money being charged to visit Wayag is paid to the islands' traditional owners. Kawe has also seen little of the development assistance provided to some of Raja Ampat's other island communities. Kawe islanders are consequently justifiably upset by the fact that their traditional lands form one of Raja Ampat's biggest tourist drawcards but their community receives no benefit from the income being generated by their asset. Their decision to restrict access to Wayag was made in an attempt to force stakeholders to the negotiating table.

It could be some time before Wayag is open to the public again, especially since there is contention within the Kawe community itself about which family groups have priority claims in the negotiations.

Raja Ampat's Wayag alternatives

Piaynemo Island
The good news is that Raja Ampat has an abundance of spectacular scenery and two locations in particular provide panoramas extremely like those of the Wayag Islands. Both of these are much closer to Waisai than Wayag and both have the additional benefit of there being homestays available so you can stay in these island wonderlands.

Piaynemo "Small Wayag"

Piaynemo is the correct local spelling of the name of the island marked on most maps of Raja Ampat as "Penemu". Penemu is about 60km (~40 miles) west of Waisai and has a karst island seascape almost indistinguishable from that of Wayag. In Piaynemo we can see a lot of baby sharks closely even we can feed them.

If you're staying on Arborek or near Sawinggrai on Gam, Piaynemo can be reached by 15HP longboat in about 90 minutes. Half that if you want to pay for a speedboat. Check out Piaynemo Homestay's page if you'd like to organise a stay at Piaynemo.

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