Senin, 27 Juli 2009

Raja Ampat at a Glance

The local people believe that the Raja Ampat region was formerly ruled by four kings who hatched from four eggs. They shared the area and lived together in peace by establishing four territorial alliances, or traditional kingdoms.

These four territories ruled by the kings are now known as Pulau Waigeo, Pulau Misool, Pulau Batanta, and Pulau Salawati. Together with around 600 smaller islands, these four major islands now comprise Raja Ampat Regency.

Administratively, Raja Ampat lies within the province of West Papua; geographically, it extends north and northwest from Sorong, covering 4.6 million hectares of waters.

Since 2003, Raja Ampat has been a newly-created regency, separate from Sorong. The administrative capital of Raja Ampat is Waisai, on Waigeo, the largest island in Raja Ampat, which is roughly the size of Bali.

Raja Ampat is a maritime region located within the world Coral Triangle, which includes parts of the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Solomon Islands.

In 2007, Raja Ampat Regency was declared a Maritime Regency by the Indonesian Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

A Diver’s Paradise

raja-ampatThe islands of Raja Ampat were visited by several European explorers in the nineteenth century. In 1860, the renowned British researcher Sir Alfred Wallace spent three months in Waigeo studying birds and insects.

Diving activities began in Raja Ampat in the early 1990s, but the area remained relatively unknown until the 2000s.

Attracted by the reports of biological diversity in the Raja Ampat Islands, since 2002 several world conservation organizations have been conducting research. The survey results are amazing; Raja Ampat is home to at least 537 species of coral – 75% of all coral species known in the world – as well as at least 1074 fish species.

Thanks to these discoveries, Raja Ampat has been declared the center of the world Coral Triangle, with the greatest biodiversity found anywhere. A renowned scientist, Dr. Gerald Allen, says that in just one dive he recorded 283 fish species, far higher than the average diversity level of 183.6 species.

With these survey results, the eyes of the world turned to Raja Ampat. Over the past few years, Raja Ampat has become known as one of the world’s best diving regions. The limited facilities did not deter enthusiasts from diving at Raja Ampat. These underwater explorers were enticed by the chance to encounter rare creatures or even discover new species.

The islands of Raja Ampat extend over quite a large area; to explore the islands properly, you need highly mobile transport facilities. More than 15 diving ships now operate regularly, enabling visitors to explore the entire Raja Ampat area. As well as providing transport to diving sites, these tour ships also offer full accommodation, just like floating hotels. And if you’d prefer to relax on the beach and interact with the local people and their culture, resort accommodation is available on several islands near Waisai and Misool, which are surrounded by extraordinary diving sites.

Live-aboard and land-based accommodations each have their advantages; together, they complement one another and offer a truly different experience.

raja-ampat-leftAll foreign tourists entering the area are required to pay an entrance fee of Rp 500.000, which entitles them to visit for one year; for domestic tourists, the fee is Rp 250.000. The entrance fee can be paid at a counter at the airport or through any live-aboard or land-based dive tour operator in Raja Ampat.

The 36-nautical-mile journey from Sorong to Waisai takes 2 to 2½ hours by speedboat. We docked at an area near Waisai to visit Waiwo, an area managed by the Raja Ampat regency government as a local development facility. Waiwo has several guest houses, and diving facilities such as scuba tanks and air compressors.

Waiwo is located near Waisai, just ten minutes away by speedboat; it takes only 20 to 30 minutes to reach the best diving sites in the area. To visit the Manta Point at Arborek Island takes around 90 minutes.

The diving sites near Waiwo include Sardine Reef, Mike’s Point, The Passage, Cape Ri, and Mansuar Reef. Here you regularly encounter schools of fusiliers, jacks, snapper, and anthias. Though reef damage is evident in a few places, most of the reef coverage is still excellent.

One unusual species that can be seen here fairly easily is the pygmy sea horse, a tiny creature (±1-2 cm) that lives in symbiosis with gorgonians and in the gaps between hydroids living in the coral reefs. Another rare species found here is a shark seldom found elsewhere, the wobbegong shark, which conceals itself among the reefs and plays dead. You can get quite close to them, but mustn’t touch them or disturb them in any way; though they seem very passive, they are very dangerous and likely to bite.

To the south of Waiwo is Pulau Saonek, the administrative capital of South Waigeo District. For those who enjoy “muck diving” (diving to dig for unusual creatures in the sand, dead reefs and/or slime), the dock at Saonek is the perfect place. Living in the shallow waters below the pier are several rare species of octopus, such as the mimic octopus, often called the “wonderpus”, which camouflages itself by imitating various fish species to avoid detection by predators.

raja-ampatAlso found here is the blue ring octopus, a small but highly venomous octopus that can be recognized by the blue rings that appear when it is stressed or otherwise disturbed. Never try to touch this beautiful creature! Other exotic species found here include the ghost pipefish, mantis shrimp, and crocodile fish.

A short journey to the west takes us to Pulau Arborek, home to schools of manta rays. The currents run swift here, and you can see the schools of mantas playing while seeking food. Below the simple pier at Arborek you can find many other schools of fish, ideal subjects for photographs.

There’s always more to say about the beauty of Raja Ampat; every time you dive, you discover something new and unusual.

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