Mette Carlsen- Raja Ampat Project Manager
I am proud to report the second quarterly report for the Raja Ampat project, which has been running for almost six months now. The program has truly been developing in the past few months as more and more things are falling into place and IOP is truly finding a home in West Papua.
These past three months, we have been joined by former intern Ethan High who has been here as our research assistant and an absolutely immaculate help with the day to day running of the program. As he is leaving us soon I just want to send a personal thank you for wonderful teamwork! With one leaving we will of course be welcoming a new research assistant to help us out over the next few months. I am very happy to welcome intern Maria Paula to the team. Being an already experienced divemaster she has already been the perfect addition and we are looking forward to working together much more!
Since January, 8 interns have graduated from the Raja Ampat project. I will again send a big congratulations to Shaelynne Trunk, Romane Moriau, Nelly Harahap, Jonah Wagner, Tom Conway, Coralie Tripier, Natalie De La Mare and Rita Mohedano. They have completed their research program or divemaster program and we could not be more proud to have contributed to creating such wonderful divers. In spite of most of them coming from very different backgrounds, the positive attitude and open mindedness of this group was a reminder of how much, love of the ocean can bring everyone together.
We had the pleasure of having Rinaldi Gotama (Penida project marine biologist and our data analysist) visit us for a little while in March. Equipped with his camera he set out to document as much of the Raja Ampat wildlife as possible during his stay with us. However, the main reason for his visit was introducing the new benthic surveys to the team, where the interns will now go out and photograph the substrate coverage for all the dive sites we go to. We are very exited for what analysis will come of this.
The ecology specialities are still being proven to be extremely relevant in the Raja Project since we see such an abundance of both sharks and turtles, and furthermore we have truly come into the season of mantas, since we have been lucky enough to see both oceanic and reef mantas on our regular dive sites. And as if that wasn’t amazing enough we have been fortunate enough to observe an abundance of whales in the last few weeks. Other than dolphins and pilot whales, we have been spotting some of the larger baleen whales even just from our own jetty and lucky enough to swim with one off them!
Being in a location as remote as Raja, comes with challenges that we have to adapt to on a daily basis. We are learning to be as flexible as possible and accept the fact that Papuan time is not always as strict as we would like it to be. But we learn from it and we can’t help but being a bit charmed by the Papuan easy-going mindset. So when the boat doesn’t leave on time, we just have to say, oh well, and take it from there. Not the worst thing in the world when you get used to it.
Our local staff wanted to learn how to snorkel and maybe later even try diving. So now, on occasion, the interns take the local ladies snorkelling on the house reef. It has proven to be good training for the interns and a great bonding experience for everyone involved. We are truly enjoying letting people experience the ocean.
The abundance and diversity of Raja is still baffling to everyone who comes through. Some of the highlights in the past few months have been seeing Oceanic Mantas (Mobula birostris), Reef Mantas (Morbula Alfredi), Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera Brydei), alongside all the massive schools of pelagic fish that dominate the majority of dives here.
Elise Dixon- Program Coordinator
Life in Raja Ampat
In the last 3 months the Raja Ampat project has taken off from its stages of development and the project has now found its feet on the edge of the grid here in Waigeo. Since January, we have welcomed fresh faces from all over, excited to be a part of our research team here at the Raja Ampat project. After their long travels, interns meet the welcoming faces of their peers as they settle into their new jungle dorms, creatively named Nudi Beach and Manta Mansion. Many new interns are so excited to enjoy the beautiful paradise of Raja Ampat from the get-go and jump straight in with their snorkel and fins to enjoy the wonders of our house reef before their projects start the day after their arrival. After receiving a welcome orientation, new interns giant stride into their projects with a refresher workshop, getting to dive on the house reef on day one. Once their projects are underway, interns complete any pre-requisite dive training courses they require, refining their skills and knowledge, preparing to commence their journey as a dive professional. Interns quickly receive species identification workshops and tests to enable them to participate in underwater species censuses, and contribute valuable data to our research endeavours. Outside of their training, interns have been able to enjoy some of the beautiful marvels that Raja Ampat has to offer, including sunset boat rides for beach fires, and visiting the world famous Piaynemo to snorkel the gem that is Mellissa’s Garden and visit the stunning viewpoint.
Since my last report, we have welcomed 9 ocean enthusiasts, ready to refine their skills and knowledge as dive professionals and research divers. Joining the team, we have had Kayla and Terry from the USA, Valerie & Louanne from the France, Adriana from Spain, Maria from Mexico, Charlotte and James from the UK, and Rebecca from Canada. With every new person who joins the project, a new sense of excitement and passion is added to the team, and we have seen so many amazing friendships develop between team members; as strangers become peers become friends become partners in crime. We are so grateful to each and every intern who has been a part of the team here in Raja Ampat, it is thanks to their hard work and passion that the project is what it is here. You have all been a joy to work with, thank you guys!
Coral Restoration and Nursery Project
Since my last update, our coral restoration project here on the Scuba Republic House Reef has been proving very successful, the 2 initial restoration tables that were deployed in November are now at full capacity, with 288 more nubbins being added using the floating rope method under the instructive guidance of our partners Ocean Gardener. These tables have and have been relocated, to the slightly deeper reef crest where the existing rubble is incrusted with CCA (crustose coralline algae), indicating a great location for baby corals to thrive. This has proved a very successful move, and the nubbins that we have relocated are absolutely thriving, with us seeing new growth forming very rapidly. With mortality in only 5 nubbins in total, and zero new mortality since the move, I am very hopeful for the future of these new coral colonies. At the beginning of April 2023, we deployed the third coral restoration nursery onto our House Reef, adding another 160 coral nubbins. This brings the total baby coral colonies growing on our restoration site to a huge 730! Since my last update, 7 new Ocean Gardener Coral Divers have been trained up, with the skills and knowledge to participate in coral restoration wherever they go.
Ocean Gardener is an NGO founded in 2016, and dedicated to coral reef education and restoration. We proudly partner with them across all our locations to provide up to date and accurate information when developing and managing our coral nurseries.
In the last 3 months, regular monitoring of out semi-permanent CoralWatch site has continued as scheduled, with interns assessing the bleaching (or lack thereof) of the tagged 20 corals that we have on our House Reef. 6 CoralWatch surveys since since January have allowed us to monitor bleaching effects within these coral colanies, and provide valuable data to CoralWatch’s global database.
CoralWatch is a not-for-profit citizen science program based at The University of Queensland working with volunteers worldwide to increase understanding of coral reefs, coral bleaching and climate change.
Citizen Science Projects
Since January, excitement surrounding our ability to contribute to citizen science on a global scale has taken off amongst the interns. With the unique arrangement of spots on the bellies of manta rays, interns have been armed with their cameras in efforts to capture these unique ‘fingerprints’ and submit their findings to Marine Megafauna’s Manta Matcher and The Manta Trust’s ID The Manta, identifying 3 individual reef mantas and an oceanic manta! All the while, the unique arrangement of facial scutes on many hawkbill and green sea turtles have been captured, allowing us to identify 31 new turtle individuals to science through Marine Megafauna’s Internet of Turtles, along with some re-sightings of some of the same individuals. Elasmobranch identification has been captured on camera frequently, and we have submitted many sightings of sharks and rays, including reef sharks, manta rays, stingrays and wobbegong sharks, to Elasmobranch Project Indonesia’s database. Some interns have taken a great interest in contributing to iNaturalist’s global database of wildlife sightings, adding more and more sightings to our ‘Marine Biodiversity of the Dampier Straight’ project, documenting all marine biodiversity in the area.
Regular marine clean ups have been ongoing under the surface of our House Reef here at the Raja Ampat project. Dive Against Debris dedicated dives have been taking place on a bi-weekly basis at the minimum. Over 9 Dives Against Debris, we successfully cleaned 28kg of marine debris. Fishing gear has made up the majority of entanglement in the reef and trash on the seabed, we most commonly observe fishing line, nets, fishing hooks and rope. Along with this, a lot of the trash is made up of various plastic waste items including lots of plastic bottles and plastic packaging. Outside of dedicated Dives Against Debris, interns always continue to remove marine debris on every dive they can, and often head out onto the house reef in their free time to ‘snorkel against debris’ whenever the currents bring in trash floating on the surface.
Want to join the team?
We only have 3 spots left in join the Penida Project in 2022! Apply online today!