Luck was with me. I discovered SeaCrush and Isabelle offered me to go to Raja Ampat. Papua Explorers had just announced a Coral Explorer program with two Australian biologists. And it was accessible to snorkelers. Just what I needed, I signed up immediately!
Raja Ampat is a remote region located at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago in the very heart of the Coral Triangle. To locate it, draw a line that crosses Indonesia, another one crossing the Philippines, and a third one crossing Papua New Guinea. Where the three rights meet, you're there, it's Raja Ampat! It borders West Papua which requires a flyight to Sorong (loooong way from Europe) followed by a three hour transfer by fast boat but it’s well worth the travel!
Raja Ampat is the perfect place for lovers of the sea: small wooded islands, scattered on a blue sea, traditional habitats, mostly on stilts, breathtaking wildlife. Papua Explorers is located on Gam Island. The resort offers over 60 regular dive sites, most of which are accessible to snorkelers.
On the diversity side it's just paradise on earth! After 30 years of snorkeling, this is the place where I have seen the greatest variety of species at the same site.
Large groupers, bumphead parrotfish, sharks and jacks etc. are all regularly sighted. Not to mention the local “specialties” such as this Omura whale blowing just 20 meters (65 feet) from the beach while I was resting between dives, the spotted wobbegong, and bamboo shark who greeted me once when I jumped in. It took my breath away!
Russell Kelley and Rachel Pears, our “Coral Explorers” presenters, are biologists by training. Russell is passionate about coral, and many other things, a gentle kind a Culbert Calculus of the marine world. When talking about coral and the Ocean, Russell tells stories that are a skillful mix of biology, geology, paleontology and humor, with sound and images. Rachel’s expertise is marine conservation – when not in Raja Ampat she works as a marine park manager for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Together they project a profound love for, and understanding of coral reefs.
Together they have developed a unique visual coral and Benthic identification methodology, and supporting field guides, to empower anyone to identify coral reef creatures. Those BYOGUIDES are accessible to all, even non-biologists. The identification keys are highly visual and easy to remember. The photos are sharp and scaled. On top of that, the Reef Finder guide book is submersible. In short, and thanks to them, differentiating the main types of coral, and coral reef creatures, became a breeze.
As the dives progressed, I became familiar with the identification criteria: hard coral, or soft coral, or not coral, general shape, axial or lateral polyp, size etc. In the evening we reviewed our photos and identified the creatures we saw during the day in a fun, relaxed way.
And with the local coral diversity reaching more than 100 species at any given site! - there is plenty to see. During our evening presentations Russell introduced us to the central ecological role of hard corals and their importance overall coral reef biodiversity. Rachel completes this vision as a practical environmentalist. And, of course, what can sea-enthusiasts do when together … we discuss and rebuild strategies for protecting the ocean (by the way I will have to tell you about Longitude 181 one day).
In Raja Ampat I didn’t just see amazing things but also developed a deeper understanding of the Coral and the underwater world I love so much, and now… just want to know even more.
Now, let me say a word about Papua Explorers because I really admire the actions put in place at several levels for their ecological and societal commitment. Arriving at the airport, I was offered not a plastic water bottle, but a nice blue insulated and reusable bottle under Papua Explorers logo, with my name on it (even though I was renamed “Varonic”, eheh my bottle is unique!). Love it!
Landing on the dive center, the interpretive displays spoke to my heart of a sea lover. A series of boards shows you tips for responsible diving, a census of key species site by site (carpet shark, mantas, mobulas, humpback parrots, black tips, etc), a description of the Omura whale (Balaenoptera omurai), turtle identification keys, and others.
And, as I’ve never seen elsewhere, …. a camera room, with tables, lamps and air drying equipment. You can even rent a camera on site if your beloved camera decides to give up (I tested it!).
The individual over-water bungalows are spacious and comfortable. Water is available everywhere, coconut made soap and shampoo are provided to invite you forgetting about usual urban soap and its toxic effects on coral. The center contributes to local conservation and reef restoration efforts and funds beach cleaning.
Papua Explorers also supports the “Sea Center” which welcomes student and PhD trainees and allows them to conduct marine research in the region. They were two of them, one working on the social behavior of mantas, the other on crown-of-thorns.
I had a magical and nourishing experience in Raja Ampat, between a dive center that speaks eco-responsible language and two adorable biologists who share their passion in such a beautiful way. If I had not already been a lover of the sea I would have become one. In my case, my commitment to the ocean has grown bigger. Thanks to you Isabelle for your advice, thanks to everyone who contributed to this wonderful experience, you make the difference guys! Don’t hesitate to join this experience… just go!
Go dive in Raja Ampat (7 nights unlimited diving starting from ...) with Papua Explorers!
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