Intrepid Tank-less Travels into the Heart of the Coral Triangle: Snorkeling the Reefs Raja Ampat

A marine area often described as ” The Amazon of the Seas.”  the Coral Triangle is a geographical term used to describe the waters stretching from Borneo to the Philippines and East to the Solomon Islands. This is the center of the world’s marine biodiversity and the Indonesian Archipelago makes up the lion’s share.  If this is the grand stage where the coral and fish of the world come to play, then it is certainly Raja Ampat that steals the show.

Earning it’s top billing as the epicenter for marine biodiversity, this vast region of marine protected areas encompass over 12,000 square kilometres of reef. These aquamarine waters thrive with over 75% of the world’s known coral species and the largest diversity of marine fish life to be found anywhere on the planet.  Although Raja Ampat is quickly becoming the diving world’s hottest destination, we have discovered that snorkelers can see just as much of what these magnificent reefs have to offer.

The sheer variety of marine eco-systems in the area can keep surface-based snorkelers entertained for weeks on end, as the underwater topography in Raja Ampat is as diverse as it’s inhabitants.   Blue water mangroves, jellyfish lakes, steep drop-offs, shallow sandy lagoons,  swift channels and dazzling coral slopes are all on offer in Raja Ampat.

Having just completed two enormously successful trips in the area, we would love to share some of what we saw.  It’s impossible to do justice to all these amazing creatures we spotted and magical moments our groups experienced, but we hope that this little visual journal from a tiny point-and-shoot pocket camera will help us give just a little taste of all that Raja Ampat has to offer. Come on a little exploration with us in the Amazon of the Seas.

One Fish.  Two Fish.  Red Fish.  Blue Fish.  Even Dr. Seuss might have been at a loss of words to describe Raja’s brilliant reefs.

Towering karst islands and tropical birds soar high overhead while we explore the magical watery world below.  Sometimes its hard to know where to look!

Snorkeling in shallow white sandy lagoons keeps us up close and personal with the delightful denizens of the reef, while the light reflects brilliantly against the white sand.  You would be hard pressed to find a swimming pool as perfect as this one!

In the shallow reefs we spot that famous little clownfish- Nemo! No snorkeling trip is complete without spotting this cute and colorful little fish or his  large extended family. Did you know there  are 13 species of anemone fish in Indonesia alone?

Snorkelers  live life on the edge!  Well, at least the edge of  reef.  A sloping reef is a sweet spot where snorkelers can enjoy the brilliant light and colors of the shallows while trying to spot the big boys in deeper waters.

Sure enough, keeping our eyes our in the blue pays of as we spot a sea turtle gliding by.  We spotted several Hawksbills and Green Turtles throughout our tour through Raja Amat.

Dramatic reef  drop offs are a thrilling way to experience the drama of Raja Ampat’s karst landscape.  Overhangs are an especially fun place to dive down and take a look to see who is hiding in the shade.

Today it turns out that no duck-diving is required to spot a spectacular creature that is usually found still and perfectly camouflaged on the reef.  From the surface we spot a free-swimming wobbegong shark. Although we found several during our trip, catching this enormous beauty gliding along like a tasseled magic carpet was quite a thrilling ride!

For a truly unique snorkeling experience, try to top cave snorkeling! Just a quick duck dive under the reef brings you into a well-lit cavernous dome that seems to glow from the light below.

Current-swept drop-offs were another thrilling highlight.  Where the currents sweep up nutrients from the deep, the sea becomes an open buffet for millions of happy, hungry diners. In this case Matt dips down to marvel at this enormous school of fusiliers.

Of course all the action can get your heart pounding, but perhaps nothing moves the snorkelers soul more than the corals themselves.  Raja Ampat has the highest diversity of hard coral on the planet!  An unending forest of mushroom corals, brain corals, table corals staghorn corals… the list goes on and on!

 The corals get loads of help from those invertebrates that make the reef their home.  Crinoids, feather stars, ascidians and vibrant blue starfish keep the reef healthy and happy.

Perhaps there is no better interaction with invertebrates than swimming in a lake full of stingless jellyfish!  No doubt that this was one of the top highlights of our trip.

Forget those rumors that you heard that you have to go all the way to Palau to experience a close encounter with golden jellies, moon jellies and upside-down Cassiopeia.  We are happy to guide you these magical creatures hidden in the myriad of marine lakes of Raja Ampat.

While on the subject of hidden wonders, a little knowledge of the marine environment can go a long way.  Those who kept abreast with our Fish ID presentations might know to look in this coral for the cleverly camouflaged trumpet fish hunting for a tasty meal.  Can you spot him?

Perhaps you prefer your fish life to be more obvious?  How about this in-your-face encounter with enormous schools of fusiliers?

Just go with the flow!  Our adventurous snorkelers were keen to try some action-packed drift snorkels..  We are accompanied by swarms of surgeonfish, schools of emperors and massive herds of the buffalo-like bumphead parrotfish. No effort and all action, how exhilarating!

Still too subtle for you?  How about snorkeling amongst enormous schools of giant barracuda, swarms of hunting giant trevallies, or spotting reef sharks patrolling the reef.  No need to fear the type of sharks we are likely to encounter, there’s a good chance he’s more afraid of you than you are of him.

Pilot fish love following sharks, but we saw first hand that they also settle for snorkelers!  This juvenile yellow striped pilot fish considered Jeni a big fish worth following.  How nice to have a cute and cuddly snorkel buddy to enjoy the reef with.

Not to be outdone, these beautiful giant manta rays  put on a graceful ballet performance to remember. This  larger than life experience of  swimming with eight manta rays was a marine-life encounter that our guests are not likely to forget.

With the help of fascinating presentations by our friends at Barefoot Consercation and Megafauna International, we enjoyed watching these fascinating creatures with our brains full of manta knowledge.  For example, did you know that the spots on a manta ray’s belly are unique?  Manta ray researches even use FBI fingerprint technology to ID individuals.

Just when our guests thought that they had seen it all, we put the cherry on the cake with a visit to Raja Ampat’s blue water mangroves, some of the most stunning mangrove habitat in the world. What sets the mangroves of the area apart is the fact they are surrounded by clear water as opposed to the murky, brackish surrounding most mangrove habitats.  Snorkelers can swim in the shallows to inspect a myriad juvenile fish, the bizarre Archer fish, and  psychedelic soft corals growing on the roots of the mangrove trees. Out of this world!

Keen for yet another round of spectacular snorkeling  Ombak Putih guests are geared up and ready to revel in what the reefs of Raja Ampat have to offer.

Meet your guides:  Both Jen and Matt are PADI trained dive professionals who have been guiding divers through the Indonesian Archipelago since 2007.  We have spent countless hours underwater spotting spectacular creatures of the reef, and hundreds more pouring through Ichthyology books trying to identify them all.   We are passionate about marine life and sharing our experience with our guests.

If you like what you see here, don’t worry, you haven’t missed the boat!  Sea Trek is just getting warmed up on exploring all that this incredible region has to offer.  Stay tuned for itinerary updates, and we hope to see you next year in the crystal blue waters in the Heart of the Coral Triangle.