The Wonders of the Blue Water Mangroves in Raja Ampat

Author: Shannon Conway

Taking a group of underwater photographers to the Blue Water Mangroves was something I’d wanted to do since I first heard about them several years earlier. The result was Divequest, in conjunction with my friend and “super guide” Graham Abbott, organising a ten day trip aboard one of my favourite liveaboards, Indo Siren.

Most of the mixed nationality group met at the conveniently located JE Meridien Hotel Sorong on the day of departure. The later arrivals went straight to the boat.

We were welcomed aboard by the charming crew and after an informative briefing by our Cruise Directors. We were shown to our cabins to unpack and settle in. We then sat down to a wonderful lunch, the first of many delicious meals. The trip was underway and everybody was looking forward to 10 days of eating, sleeping and diving. Mixed with a few images.

After a good nights sleep we awoke to a stunning sunrise off Mansuar Island, North West of Sorong.  A wonderful breakfast was swiftly followed by a detailed briefing from our Cruise Directors Nick and Mark. The pool was open and we were ready for diving!

The first two dives were around a site called Cape Kri. This gave everybody a chance for a shake down of dive and camera gear. The site was not your usual check dive. We were graced with Schooling Jacks, Sweetlips and some beautiful shallow bommies covered in soft corals, fans and glassfish. This gave everybody a chance to start getting their wide-angle eye in ready for the entrée and main course!

We pulled anchor and made our way to a site called Mike’s Point off the eastern tip of Kerupiar Island, just off the south east coast of Gam. A fairly well known site named after the son of Max Ammer (owner Kri Eco Resort), legend has it that Kerupiar was mistakenly identified as a Japanese ship and bombed during WWII.

It was another lovely wide-angle site with stunning hard, soft corals and a lot of fish life. Unfortunately the current was blowing a little so exploring the whole site wasn’t possible.

The night dive was just off Saonek Island which was a little quiet on the critter front. All the macro addicts had a great time and enjoyed the break from the first day of challenging wide-angle photography. 

Early the next morning we arrived at our first mangrove stop, Gam Mangroves off Yanggefo Island. A site I’ve dived previously, I knew it was a stunning area for shallow mangrove images. We spent a day and a half here with everybody getting motivated by the plethora of subjects. I could spend a week here and still only scratch the surface of the opportunities available. Archer fish, Silver Sides, Cardinal fish, cuttlefish etc. etc. all set in a stunning mangrove backdrop.

A few people also dived Citrus Ridge, which is famous for its carpets of brightly coloured soft corals close to the surface. They were blessed with Chevron and Yellowtail Barracuda, Wobbegong and Robust Fusiliers.

We then motored off south west and checked out Manta Sandy, which proved a little frustrating as no Mantas came to see us. So we decided to pop in to see my favourite Milliner on Arborek Island. They did a roaring trade that day, with the Manta hats proving the most popular. The local children were fantastic performing their welcome dances and enjoying the many gifts of colouring books, pencils, tooth brushes and paste that were given out by the guests.

The night dive at Arborek Jetty proved popular with an appearance of the infamous Walking Shark amongst many critters and a Toad fish caring for its eggs.

The following day we had travelled even further South West to an Island called Kofiau. Time for a day of muck diving, which called for a change of lenses and mindset. Graham and the local guides were busy spotting wonderful photographic subjects. There were numerous Blue-ringed Octopus, Nudibranchs, Weedy Pygmy Seahorses and several species of Ghost Pipefish. The only dive restrictions were enough Nitrox in the cylinder and bottom time. Everyone had a ball!  The night dive off South Deer was no exception. It was a very rich muck diving area that we’ll certainly visit again.

That night we travelled south to Nampele (The Blue Water Mangroves). We awoke the next morning to a stunning view of this magnificent site and we started with small groups dropped in at different spots, giving everybody plenty of room with their wide-angle lenses to explore. The secret to these areas is to have a good look around on your first few dives. We were based here for two full days, allowing us unlimited dive time to create some fantastic images. After the first dive we let the groups choose which areas they wanted to try. The discussions of what was where through the day and into the evening got everybody thinking of what images they could produce and what area would best suit those images.

At high tide the following day we took a trip in the tenders. Deep into the lagoons we saw numerous turtles and hard and soft corals dispersed between healthy sea grass. The numerous Archerfish were the highlights for me. It certainly was a stunning place!

During our second day at Nampele a large pod of Short-finned Pilot Whales was spotted. Most of us jumped on the tenders and followed them for several kilometres along the coast watching them put on a wonderful display jumping between the boats. 

After an awesome few days at Nampele we moved east to a well known site called the Four Kings. This site is renowned for its fish life and corals and we were not disappointed. The ridge was alive with millions of silver sides twisting and turning through the jacks, tuna and barracuda, all trying to get their share of the food. Mixed with the blooming soft corals this was a site “going off”.

After two dives a Four Kings we moved further East to Batu Kalig which seemed a little quiet compared to the previous couple of dives. It actually turned into a very scenic dive with extended soft corals and an enormous Giant Clam. On the slopes there were some very photogenic bommies covered in life and corals. A night dive under the fish traps at Wajaban an end to an exhilarating day.

The following day we made our way south east of Misool to the tiny Island of Fiabacet where we dived Karang Bayangan (Magic Mountain), a sea mount renowned for its Manta encounters and profusion of coral, pelagics and reef fish.  This site never fails to amaze me.  Its got everything. We were even blessed at the very end of the dive with fantastic encounter with an enormous oceanic Manta.

We moved on to the famous Misool site of Boo window. We had several requests for Pygmy Seahorses. So the macro photographers with several guides went pygmy hunting and the wide- angle brigade went to the famous window. We stayed around Boo and PCP for the Pygmy’s on the second dive. From memory we counted around 20 individuals and four different species. A very successful excursion.  The night dive was at Yillet Corner.  Which gave up some superb subjects.

Our final dive day had come too soon. We stayed east of Misool around Sagof island for our final two dives of the trip. Again we were stunned at the diversity that Raja Ampat always seems to provide. Silversides, blooming soft corals, schooling Jacks, Mobula Rays for the wide-anglers, mixed with Pygmy Seahorses, Boxer Crabs, and Nudibranchs  for the macro heads. It was my fifth trip to this area and I will be back very soon.

After a fantastic day and a rather late evening our trip was nearly over. Annelise Hagan walked off with the trophy of favourite image. Congratulations again Annelise who travelled all the way from Belize to be with us. I’m pleased the long trip was worth it.

I’d like to thank the crew Of Indo Siren. They were superb. We could not have asked for a more flexible and professional bunch of people. Thank you Worldwide Dive and Sail for letting us take Indo Siren away from its usual schedule in Raja Ampat, making this tailor made trip very special.

I’d also like to thank the friends that joined Graham and I on this extremely successful trip. We will be announcing other trips very soon…….

Magical sunsets in Raja Ampat (Tammy Gibbs)

Tiny Archer Fish swimming through the mangroves (Daniel Lloyd)

Curious Cuttlefish in the mangroves (Shannon Conway)

Ghost Pipefish (Amanda Blanksby)

The rich seas of Raja Ampat teem with schooling fish like jacks (Tammy Gibbs)

A pod of Short-finned Pilot Whales was a trip highlight (Gary Browne)

Soft coral outcrop in the mangroves (Shannon Conway)

Night time nudibranch (Tammy Gibbs)

Oceanic Manta Ray (Shannon Conway)

The islands of Raja Ampat are as stunning above the water as they are below (Tammy Gibbs)

Tiny schools of fish dart between the sea grasses (Shannon Conway)

Starbursts through the mangroves (Tammy Gibbs)

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