Marine Science and Manta Magic
Marine Science and Manta Magic
There’s never a dull moment aboard the SY Indo Siren, as those who have already been onboard will surely attest and naturally each trip has its own unique character. This trip we had the honour of welcoming aboard Charlotte Caffrey, Marine Scientist from Aqua-Firma and host of this 10-night odyssey.
Once all the guests had trickled aboard and made themselves comfortable, we were treated to a presentation by Charlotte on what makes Raja Ampat so biodiverse, as an introduction to the area. This presentation would be followed up throughout the trip by various others seminars and talks, including manta ray identification and behaviour, the anatomy of anemones and feather stars, as well as the low-down on echinoderms. The latter phylum includes curious and unusual sea cucumbers, radially symmetric sea stars and the often venemous yet beautiful sea urchins. Marine threats and conservation rounded off the talks, inspiring ideas on how we all can contribute to the welfare of the seas and oceans, and thereby the planet as a whole. Admittedly that sounds a bit heavy, but make no mistake – Charlotte is a woman who can captivate your attention through her enthusiasm and humour.
As with each trip in Raja Ampat we had fantastic diving throughout. We began with a check dive in Misool and already were treated to a wobbegong, big fat bargibanti pygmy seahorses (big = over a centimeter!) and a giant school of batfish hovering in blue water, slowing drifting like clouds above us, below us and around us. The very same day the Raja Ampat-endemic epaulette shark was encountered on the night dive and stayed out to be captured video for no less than 10 minutes. A special treat indeed.
Strong currents at Magic Mountain attracted manta rays and we were lucky to see both a giant manta (Manta birostris) and a reef manta (Manta alfredi) using the same cleaning station. Adding additional excitement were the resident juvenile white-tip reef sharks out in action as well as glimpses of grey reef sharks.
The usual transient rain showers produced beautiful rainbows. In between our dives at Boo we even saw 2 complete rainbows. However this proved to be an ominous apparition as a squall the next day had us steaming for cover and adding an extra day to our sojourn in Misool. Since there are so many stunning dive sites in Raja Ampat, it was no skin off our back to visit a few more in the area. The first dive post-squall on a wonderfully scenic and super-fishy submerged pinnacle illustrated how every cloud has a silver lining.
For our transition from Misool in the South to the North of Raja Ampat we had a complete change of scenery, for a day muck diving meant no beautiful underwater scenery whatsoever. In exchange, we focused on the weird and wonderful life inhabiting the sandy slopes off the shore of Batanta. Cuttlefish, mimic octopus, spearing and smashing mantis shrimps, unusual nudis … the list goes on and fortunately does NOT include crocodiles! Nevertheless, the crew remains vigilantly on the lookout with each visit.
Manta Sandy was the next stop … coincidentally planned on manta-crazy Katja’s 50th birthday? Mantas were swooping over the cleaning bommies as Katja was presented with a laminated card signed by her new friend. Understandable she could hardly contain her joy after the first dive … or the 2nd or the 3rd for the mantas continued the show all day long! That evening we presented her with a birthday dessert as the crew no-quite-so-harmoniously sang Happy Birthday, and then the Indonesian version of well-wishing. “Best birthday I ever had!” she assured us. Check out FaceBook page for the video action!
Though the mantas are always a crowd pleaser, many guests were blown away by the hard coral wonderland we visited the next day. To see so many species of coral creating a vast underwater landscape is these days for many only a thing of legend. The day was also laden with wobbegong shark after wobbegong shark … which would continue for the remainder of the trip. Some time spent snorkeling around the mangroves had us almost lose Charlotte – she did not want to leave. But to be fair she didn’t want to leave almost every place we went.
Schooling fish, fish, fish dominated our last 2 diving days. Jacks and barracudas, snappers and groupers … it would take pages to list all the different kinds. A special appearance by a group of 6 very large giant sweetlips had me particularly excited. How often does someone see that in their lifetime? Oh, Raja Ampat, you are a magical place indeed.