Raja Ampat is an archipelago on the western tip of Papua, Indonesia. Encompassing an area of 40,000 square km (15,444 square miles), the archipelago is comprised of more than 1,500 small islands, cays, and shoals. The largest islands in the archipelago are Salawati, Misool, Waigeo, and Kofiau. Raja Ampat is referred to as The Crown Jewel of the Bird's Head Seascape and is a global center of tropical marine biodiversity. Because of the natural resources that the archipelago has strong tourism potential, especially for attracting scuba divers.
Raja Ampat is a must for divers who wish to experience remote and pristine waters abounding in marine life. After all, it’s part of the Coral Triangle, the most biodiverse marine ecosystem on the planet. Most of the landmass within the archipelago is uninhabited and there’s a limited number of dive resorts in the region. This has helped keep the Raja Ampat archipelago unspoiled both above and below the water.
Raja Ampat has some of the most spectacular dive sites. Photo by Buena Ventura
The best diving in Raja Ampat usually takes place between the months of October and April. There are fewer chances of rain than the rest of the year and the visibility is as good as it can get.
Mid-June through mid-September is the monsoon season which should be avoided because of the strong winds. In August, some liveaboards suspend their services and dives may be canceled due to weather.
The water temperature remains rather constant throughout the year; expect temperatures of about 80° F/26° C to 86° F/30° C.
Most dive sites have calm conditions but there are a few sites where one can experience strong currents that may require the use of a reef hook.
The visibility ranges between 30 feet (9 meters) to over 70 feet (21 meters) depending on the dive site. It’s not the best dive destination in terms of visibility because of the many nutrients in the water.
Raja Ampat is at the heart of the Coral Triangle, an area that contains 30 percent of the coral reefs in the world. The archipelago has over 500 species of reef-building coral and it has the highest known diversity of reef corals for an area of its size. In fact, there are ten times more species of hard coral in Raja Ampat than you’d find in the Caribbean.
The reef is made up of giant corals, sea squirts, deer antler corals, and hard coral tables. Scientists have also found that the coral species in the archipelago may be more resistant to the threats caused by rising ocean temperatures as a result of global warming.
A blue-spotted ray in Raja Ampat. Photo by Ratha Grimes
An epicenter of marine biodiversity, Raja Ampat numbers over 1,000 species of fish. Some of the aquatic animals you can see on a dive include sharks (five different species), manta rays, groupers, barracudas, schooling jacks, pale-tailed surgeonfish, giant angelfish, goatfish, pygmy seahorses, banded pipefish, triggerfish, giant morays, damselfish, fusiliers, Napoleon wrasses, and many, many other species.
Raja Ampat is also a great destination for macro photographers. On nearly every dive site there are a variety of species of nudiphiles. Other small animals you can find here are the blue-ringed octopus, ghost pipefish, pygmy seahorses, pearlfish, zebra crabs, peacock mantis shrimp, gobies, flying gurnards, and blennies, among many others.