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Marine Life Blog » Indonesia, Liveaboard Diving Indonesia, Raja Ampat » A mangrove dive, a hitchhiker and 472 species of fish

A mangrove dive, a hitchhiker and 472 species of fish

Mangrove Soft Coral

Mangroves and Soft Coral

 

 

April 2 –We spent the day in the mangroves of Gam Island. I have long ranked mangroves high on my list of favorite alternate habitats to explore. Most mangrove forests are washed by turbid coastal water, limiting sightseeing, but not on Gam, where clear water invades the tangled growth right up to shore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a feast for the imagination to glide over a carpeting of corals and anemones overhung with a leaf-filled tropical sky, and neighbored by prop roots garlanded with sponge and soft coral. As tropical fishes dance about below, Archer Fish and Ballyhoo patrol above, mirroring their images off the calm surface. 

Estuary Halfbeak

Estuary Halfbeak

The Archer Fishes’ (a patient observer can maneuver to within a few feet) unique talent of dislodging insects from overhanging branches with a jet of water shot from pointed mouths, allow them to hit stride at high tide when the odds rise in their favor.

The mangrove forest coupled with an adjacent coral ridge showcasing a parade of colorful fishes, cuttlefishes, octopuses and nudibranchs, keeps everyone happy for four dives, including a night excursion, where Liberty finds a knock-your-socks-off hydroid decorator crab and Acho proudly shows off a pair of Robust Ghost Pipefish. Ned related later, with a mischievous hint of amusement in his voice, that he watched the huge Bumphead parrotfish, startled by dive lights, blindly kamikaze toward me at collision speed and, only after my last second lifesaving spin, ricochet off my tank (instead of my face).

Hydroid Decorator Crab

Hydroid Decorator Crab

We return to the boat to find that Guido, on the prowl in the skiff for fresh fish, instead purchased a parrot from a passing boat of boar hunters. Assuming it a recent captive, he has every intention of releasing the bird the following day. That is until Lillian, an avid birder, identifies it as a male Eclectic parrot, endemic to the area. She also notes how tame the bird appears even accepting hand-fed papaya from Hendrak, the chief steward. Guido’s plan for a quick release will have to be put on hold.

Hitchhiking Parrot

Hitchhiking Parrot

Two days aboard the boat and we are already conditioned to expect after-dive treats from Hendrak. He’s also wrested back control of the breakfast toaster from Mary and Park whose “Croissants al Carbon” prove that toasters and tourists don’t mix.

 

Anne, Lynn and Anna after dive calories

Anne, Lynne and Anna Enjoy After Dive Calories

Advance Technology Challenge

Advance Technology Challenge

April 3, 4 & 5 – Our next three days are spent in the southern area of Raja Ampat. The fish surveyors are in top form exploring one of the fishiest dive sites on Earth, Melissa’s Garden. The hard coral shelf and its surrounding sand skirt encircling three rocky islets, is a potent fish attractor. All the fishwatchers are coming in with high counts and adding new species to their life lists.

 

Shallow Coral Garden of Raja Ampat

Shallow Coral Garden of Raja Ampat

The afternoon dives in southeast Misool are gorgeous and fishy producing three different kinds of pygmy seahorses. Bruce August from Miami, an ol’ hand at Caribbean diving, on his first venture out into the far flung reaches of the Pacific, danced a jig after being shown his first pygmy seahorse. Another clear example confirming Ned’s timeworn adage, “Move slow, learn to think small, and you will never have a boring dive.” 

 

Pygmy Seahorse

Pygmy Seahorse

I am enjoying the opportunity to shoot wide-angle video footage, which is sorely lacking in my library after years of concentrating my attention on identification and behavior video.

 

Our final dive in Raja Ampat is off Wayilbatan. Our own Jim Dalle Pazze while on our first trip here with Larry Smith in 2005, named the site, Neptune’s FanSea. The current running between two islands flies us effortlessly though a narrow quarter-mile passage buttressed by a towering garden wall of soft corals and oversized sea fans. We travel one way before breakfast and back the other way before lunch.

 

Dramatic Karst Formations Compliment the Underwater Beauty

Dramatic Karst Formations Compliment the Underwater Beauty

By the time we return for a bite, the parrot has been given a name, Moey, and has settled in to stay on a broom-handle perch overlooking the outdoor dinning area. That night, with the help of slides, Guido tells the tale of how the Dewi Nusantara, built of hand-tooled ironwood by Dayak craftsman on a muddy estuary in nearby Kalimantan, came into being. His captivating account immediately brings to mind the classic Werner Herzog movie Fitzcarraldo. In the 1984 film, an expat Scotsman attempts the improbable task of transporting a river cargo ship over a mountain peak in an attempt to gain sufficient wealth to fulfill his dream of building a world-class opera house on the banks of the Amazon. The marked difference: Where Fitzcarraldo experiences a triumphant failure, Guido Brink pulled off a triumphant success that now carries us in classic style and comfort across one of the world’s most exotic seas.  

Our final fish count for Raja Ampat is 472 species, including the rarely sighted, cave-dwelling Paddlefin cardinalfish. Janet alone has 468 fish on her list. She continues her hunt well after each dive, reviewing her survey slate and scanning digital photographs in order to track down the more difficult-to-identify species captured by her ever-ready, point-and-shoot camera.

 

Janet’s After Dive Dive Into the ID)

Janet’s After Dive Dive Into the ID

 

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