Many people believe that in the 21st century Earth doesn’t hold too many secrets, and anywhere worth discovering has been discovered, but in the rarely visited region of Indonesia called West Papua, there is a place that has been recently found to have one of the most ecologically diverse marine environments on the planet.
Raja Ampat is a group of islands, an archipelago, consisting of about 1,500 small islands, cays and shoals which is located on the northwest tip of Bird’s Head Peninsular, just off the island of New Guinea.
The thing that makes Raja Ampat so special is that it is believed to possess the richest tropical marine diversity on the planet. It is a very special place which is not only home to a great wealth of marine life, but is stunningly beautiful as well.
It is known that the archipelago has at least 1,309 different species of fish; 537 coral species; and about 700 mollusc species. When you dive amongst the reef here it is possible to see large schools of fish, and also of sharks.
One of the reasons why Raja Ampat is thought to be so rich is because the island chain is situated at the confluence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans where coral and fish larvae can be more easily shared between to two oceans, adding to the abundance of life.
The area is still difficult to reach, involving a long flight to the city of Sorong, and then many hours by boat to reach the islands. The tourism infrastructure is not yet ready to cope with large numbers of visitors, but new environmentally friendly developments are beginning to take place.
There are four main islands in the group: Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo.
Currently the Raja Ampat Tourism Association is preparing five major Tourism Villages that will be introduced as part of its efforts to preserve the nature of local cultural life. Each village will be designed according to its own unique culture and will have guests accommodation. One reason for the establishment of these villages, is to allow the local people to become self reliant in earning a decent living whilst simultaneously preserving their ancestors inheritance.
To further help protect the area, the Raja Ampat Regency Government has introduced a tourist fee which comes with a waterproof tag so that it can be carried at all times, even when visitors are swimming or diving.
Due to its remoteness, Raja Ampat is still in relatively pristine condition, and it is to be hoped that all of its diversity can be preserved. Chances are that the region will never attract too many throngs of tourists, but that is a good thing because importing the crowds and providing facilities for them may just ruin the very environment that visitors are hoping to experience.