After being in the Seychelles for over six months it was time for a holiday. But where to go when you’re already in paradise? With everything the Seychelles has to offer – beautiful white sandy beaches, lush green mountains and crystal clear waters, one would probably desire to visit a big city full of shops, nightlife and lots of people. Not I – two weeks of diving in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, with Barefoot Conservation for me! Raja Ampat is located in West Papua, and part of the coral triangle which is considered the world’s most biodiverse area, or as I prefer, the Amazon of the sea!
Not a great start to the holiday: the first leg of my journey was delayed and then I saw a sign with my name on at the lost luggage counter in Jakarta. One thing island life had taught me is to go with the flow. After four plane journeys and two boat trips later (60 hours) I finally arrived with my luggage – phew.
Arborek, where the Barefoot Conservation basecamp was located, is a tiny sand island surrounded by a beautiful reef. Unloading from the boat on the jetty I watched reef fish swim beneath and even spotted a small epaulette shark walking along the sea bed. I could not wait to dive in and explore!
I didn’t have to wait long. My first dive took place that afternoon. It was a refresher, just on our house reef, and after a quick couple of skills I could enjoy the scenery. Colours galore and movement all around, I didn’t know where to look! I’ve dived in many locations previously, but nothing quite compared to this. I recognised some species, of course, but there were many others I had never even envisioned. Not only was the diversity amazing, the sheer abundance of life was also incredible. Over the duration of my stay I dived a total of eleven sites including a manta ray cleaning station. Imagine sitting on the sea bed, with a 4m manta ray swimming above your head – unreal! It’s hard to give a favourite but Citrus Ridge offered brightly coloured orangey yellow soft corals, and I was lucky to spot practically every megafauna possible on a reef – bumphead parrotfish, napoleon wrasse, reef sharks, turtles, and lots and lots of clownfish! (Ok they are not megafuana, but I love them!).
We were diving twice a day, six days a week. Before you all get excited and think I was leisurely diving…. five of these six days was dedicated to scientific research. That’s right I had signed up to work underwater during my vacation from my marine based job!
At Barefoot Conservation you are part of a monitoring team who aim to create a GIS map of the coral reefs of Raja Ampat through numerous research dives. The long term monitoring plan will be used to assist local government and communities to conserve and protect the area. At present approximately 45% of Raja Ampat waters is considered a marine protected area. It is also a shark sanctuary. Until relatively recently the area was untouched therefore the monitoring of such an area is key to its conservation and luckily the Barefoot Conservation team are happy to take on the job. The coral reef surveys look at the benthos and coral cover, invertebrates and fish species. Then there are specific sea turtle sites and manta ray sites. In between all the diving we often had presentations on the biology, identification and conservation of reef inhabitants. It was great to see many of the locals of Arborek joining us for these as well diving with us.
Sundays were considered a dry day, but try keeping 15 water loving energetic people on a tropical island out of the sea. We would spend our time snorkelling or, my personal favourite, floating in the life ring tied to the jetty. Overall I had a great stay and was very sad to be leaving, but the waters of the Seychelles were calling.
Diving may be part of my job, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying it during time off!
For information on similar trips and your chance to have a vacation like Jo’s check out our Marine Research Expedition pages