Located off the northwest tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea, in Indonesia’s West Papua province, Raja Ampat, or the Four Kings, is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays and shoals surrounding the four main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo, and the smaller island of Kofiau. It encompasses more than 9.8 million acres (40,000 km²) of land and sea, which also contains Cenderawasih Bay, the largest marine national park in Indonesia. It is a part of the newly named West Papua (province) of Indonesia which was formerly Irian Jaya. The islands are the most northern pieces of land in the Australian continent.
According to Conservation International, marine surveys suggest that the marine life diversity in the Raja Ampat area is the highest recorded on Earth. Diversity is considerably greater than any other area sampled in the Coral Triangle composed of Indonesia, Philippines and Papua New Guinea. The Coral Triangle is the heart of the world’s coral reef biodiversity, making Raja Ampat quite possibly the richest coral reef ecosystems in the world.
Over 1,070 fish species, 537 coral species (a remarkable 96% of all scleractinia recorded from Indonesia are likely to occur in these islands), and 699 mollusk species, the variety of marine life is staggering. Some areas boast enormous schools of fish and regular sightings of sharks, such as wobbegongs.
Most of our diving, other than on Manokwari’s excellent WWII wrecks, was within Cenderawasih Bay National Park, Indonesia’s largest. This park is huge, half again larger than Raja Ampat. The area somewhat confined. This means that less current moves through Cenderawasih’s waters, and therefore there’s less recruitment of marine larvae than in a place like Raja.
This isolation has blessed Cenderawasih with a number of very colorful endemic species. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that many normally deep-dwelling fish species are found here in relatively shallow water. This topsy-turvy reefscape, along with the presence of the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, prompted Dr. Gerald Allen to call Cenderawasih “ the Galapagos of Indonesia’s Reefs”. We will dive with the whale shark.