Wish You Were Here: The Raja Ampat Archipelago, Indonesia

by Owen James Burke

raja

(Photo: Sterling Zumbrunn/Conservation International)

The 1,500 islets, cays and shoals that make up the Raja Ampat Archipelago on the Indonesian side of Papua New Guinea are as diverse as they are numbered, and quickly becoming some of the most premier diving locations in the world.

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(Photo: Kieth A. Ellenbogen)

An upside-down jellyfish gallantly hovers over a shallow grass bed. If you’re not into diving with massive whales and stingrays or plunging into the abyss, there’s plenty to explore in the shallows. Raja Ampat has it all.

Overfishing and general ecosystem mismanagement were becoming pressing issues in the Indonesian Isles until recently, after a few regulatory measures were taken to protect what some say is the healthiest remaining coral reef on the planet. Now, Raja Ampat (meaning “four kings”, after local mythology that tells of four kings who hatched from eggs and now reside on the four largest islands) is Indonesia’s largest marine reserve, and is finding itself directly beneath the eco-tourism hotspot.

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(Photo: Burt Jones and Maurice Shimlock)

Schooling fusiliers swarm by the thousands along a coral reef heavily laden with fan corals. While we’ve lost 20% of our coral reefs in the past decade (The Ocean Health Index, 2012), the coral reefs and the species that depend on them are flourishing in the Raja Ampat Archipelago.

So far, it’s remained pretty quiet, but it’s probably only a matter of time before we see it go the way of neighboring Bali, but here’s hoping it won’t.

— OB

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