Underwater Wonderland- By Josje

Pictures and video just don’t do it any justice. Even the super professional underwater cameras with huge handles, blinding flashes and wide angle lenses don’t do it any justice. The underwater wonderland of Raja Ampat can only be experienced with your own eyes, your own breath, and your own senses.

On our sail over from the island of Air, just north of Ceram, we flipped through books, pamphlets and guides in awe and excitement. We were heading for SE Misool, a shallow shelf in the Ceram Sea, dotted with islets, lagoons and extensive reef systems. Mainland Misool lies at the southernmost part of the Raja Ampat region and the south eastern islets are arguably the most exotic sites in all of Raja Ampat.

The Misool Eco Resort located on the small island of Batbitiem, has managed to extend the protection of this diverse and special place by claiming it a marine conservation area which extends over an area of more than 1000 square kilometers. They have also included a ‘No Take Zone’ inside this area to stop big commercial fishing that destroys so many other eco systems.

All in all, it’s about as natural as it gets. The biodiversity of this place is unbelievable. There are tiny organisms like nudi branches, pygmy seahorses and thousands of other critters too small for the eye to see, all fluttering about minding their own business. Corals of all different shapes and sizes, soft and hard corals, all alive, all beautifully coloured. There are never-ending species of reef and pelagic fish, not to mention whales, dolphins, and endless amounts of turtles. All working in unison, all in perfect harmony, there is just so much life and energy, it’s truly incredible.

We found a sweet anchorage on the north side of the island of Kalig. A small pass through the rugged cliffs enclosed us nearly 360 degrees around with some very loud white parrots perched in the tall green trees. The mountains seemed to rise up out of the sea, all grey and mystical looking. It was a sweet spot, a good little find. We stern tied Delos to some big trees off the cliff and we were set, sheltered and protected from the wind and swells that seem to blow through here in August.

Inflating the floaties, we made a couple bloody mary’s and jumped in. There was amazing snorkeling right off the back step of Delos. Free diving down, we found abundance of fish we had never seen before, so beautiful and vivid in colour. Small spouts perching off the coral wall, most often in intense blues and yellows, more commonly known as sea squirts! How cute. My eyes were wide with astonishment and everywhere I looked there was life.

After a good night’s rest we loaded the dinghy with 5 sets of dive gear and set out for a small piece of rugged barren rock about the size of a car. To anybody, it just looks like a piercing hazard in the middle of the ocean, not something you would want to come close to in Delos.

We approached Tank Rock and witnessed waves smacking into the side creating spray and a little bit of fear inside my belly. I had only done one dive in Australia since leaving Delos a year and a half ago. It was a mixture of nerves and pure excitement. I was eager to see what lay below the surface of this very boring looking rock.

Because of the current, we decided to dive in teams. Pairing up with Karin, we jumped in the water and got our gear set up. Giving each other a smile in an excited ‘are you ready’ kind of way, we put our regulators in our mouth and let the air out of our BC.

As soon as we had descended not even a couple of meters, we were surrounded by big schools of barracuda and the most beautiful red toothed triggerfish. Only the size of your hand, they are the most beautiful colour of blue often swimming in schools of hundreds, so elegant and simple. Still descending we looked over to the reef; it was bursting with all kinds of corals and reef fish. We were truly in an underwater aquarium. Although the visibility wasn’t what we had seen in places like the Solomons, it was still a good 10-15 meters. It is one thing having your own miniature version of an aquarium in your home with LED lighting and Aquarium Air pumps so you can mimic the real thing, but actually being out there and seeing it, close enough to touch what the sea has made, that is something else entirely. I can certainly see why people want to replicate that in their homes.

We swam with the reef on our right down to about 20 meters (60 feet) and hung out there for a bit. Everywhere we looked, there was life and it was mind blowing that so many colours and energy could be under this sometimes very blue and gentle looking sea. Schools of tuna and bait fish circled around in that beautiful easy way that they do.

Turning our attention to the reef, we took a closer look at all the organisms living in the coral. Clown fish, moray eels, rainbow trout, and parrot fish to name a few were all swimming about minding their own business. We slowly made our way back up to about 10 meters (30 feet) and just floated in one area for the next 15 minutes. It was amazing to see all these little creatures living so closely together almost overflowing with life out of the reef.

Some clown fish were swimming in and out of their anemone, getting protection from any predators. A small shrimp scurried over the top. A parrot fish seemed to be having some lunch from the hard coral nearby. A pair of butterfly fish swam right in front of me, off on a mission. A moray eel popped its head out of its hole, curious about all the commotion. Some soft coral swayed beautifully to each side, in tune with the current. Every square inch we looked, there seemed to be more activity, more life, and more movement.

Just as I was admiring all these things, Karin spotted a turtle about 5 meters from us. How could I have missed this amazing creature so close to us. So many things to see and not enough eyes to look! It was a big male leatherback turtle, distinguished by its long tail. It was beautiful and huge and didn’t seem bothered by the close proximity of humans. We admired him for a few minutes and then another two turtles emerged over the reef. It looked like another male and a female. All three of them were interacting with each other; it seemed as though we were witnessing a mating!

We couldn’t believe our eyes; my mask leaked a little as my cheeks crinkled up in a big goofy smile. How incredible.

As the turtles got lost in the distance, we turned our attention back to the reef and enjoyed the view. It was like choosing what movie to watch at the cinema when they’re all so good and all playing at the same time.

Just before our safety stop, we saw another turtle, a little baby one. We popped up near the dinghy and our excitement burst out of our lungs. Being underwater, everything is almost like slow motion; the only sounds are the light cracklings of the water and your breath through the regulator. No words and no sounds, so when we came back to life above the surface, we just wanted to express the last 45 minutes in one go. We looked at each other in amazement before rambling about our findings.

It was our first dive in raja ampat and it was amazing, definitely setting the mark. Even though I mentioned that pictures don’t do it any justice, I thought I’d add a few just for your enjoyment, everyone loves pictures right?