RAJA AMPAT WHERE TO DIVE
Raja Ampat is arguably the most diverse underwater ecosystem on the planet. A 2002 Nature Conservancy study found more than 1,074 different fish species and 537 coral species. The area is also thought to play a major part in helping to replenish the coral reef systems throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans as the strong currents carry massive amounts of coral larvae into other fragile ecosystems.
Underwater photographers have made Raja Ampat a must-do destination, and although there are many dive sites already seeing an increase in visits, there are still many more to be discovered. The best way to see the best sites is on a liveaboard, where the operators travel from site to site throughout the area, depending upon conditions and seasons. Here are a few to try:
An unusual underwater garden filled with colorful hard and soft corals, this site is located in the Fam island group. The three small islands have been undercut by the swift currents and resemble mushrooms, with the island walls covered in corals and vegetation. Look out for the amazing giant clams, some of which are close to 100 years old.
While seeing manta rays in Raja Ampat isn't unusual, this manta ray cleaning station attracts them in large numbers, so you can be sure you'll see them circling while they wait in line for their turn. The site is located just south of Waigeo Island and follows a reef to the cleaning site. Look for the mantas that are completely black as they perform loop-de-loops for the audience.
Just off Misool Island, this site is a treat for the macro photographer. The abundance of colorful corals paints a vibrant picture on the gently sloping wall, and if you look closely you'll find ghost pipefish and pygmy seahorses. Also a good spot for getting close-up of interesting nudibranchs and flatworms.
This site is a large sloping reef that extends from 12 feet to 99 feet and offers some of the most abundant fish life in the area. There is a swift current, and so many fish congregate here that divers can be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and colors. Here, too, you'll see various pelagics sweeping by for a quick meal.
The topside trip to the dive site is as interesting as the site itself, with a winding boat ride through narrow passages among towering rock islands. The drift dive follows a long passage where small bays and caves hide various nudibranchs, flatworms, blennies and small octopus. In the current, you might see schools of larger fish along with sharks, turtles, rays and barracudas.
This area is known for its manta rays and wrecks. The site appears unimpressive until on closer inspection, divers can find octopuses, crocodile fish, stonefish, devil stingers, epaulette sharks, snake eels, pipefish and more interesting critters.
A favorite for many, this dive site is off Kri Island. If you stay just out of the swift current, you'll see sharks, barracuda, rays, turtles, barracuda and snappers. The swift current can be a concern, and more experienced divers can opt to let the current swee them into the "washing machine." Sometimes visited by several huge Queensland groupers as big as a compact car.
This Japanese patrol boat has been here since WWII, and is probably the most accessible wreck in the area. Named not for the boat, but for the large cross on the nearby shore, this wreck offers easy penetration where you can see the engine room and communications room and rows of depth charges at the rear of the ship.