Raja Ampat Project Manager
I am excited to write the first quarterly update of the Raja Ampat location of Indo Ocean Project. This is also my first quarterly update as Project Manager and I am thrilled to report what has been going on in the newest part of the project. I first came to Indonesia in 2021 as an intern in the Penida Project and fell in love with the place. I started working as Program Coordinator and was afterwards moved to Raja when we opened the program here. It has been thrilling to set up a project in collaboration with the interns and it will be exciting to follow the progress of the project after getting more settled.
I would like to welcome Ethan High who is a recent graduate from the Bira Project and is a valuable addition to our research team here in Raja Ampat in the role of Senior Research Intern. Other than being a very competent diver, Ethan is very passionate about ecology and will be doing his IDC at the end of his internship with us in Raja Ampat. We are very happy to have you here!
During the last three months, nine interns have graduated from the Raja Ampat project. A massive congratulations to Anne Spies, Riccardo Zini, Dorianne Masson, Diana Fatkuthidonva, Pavel Strongin Sarah Burgniard, Tom Mills, Tallulah Bodenham and Iris Schira. They have finished their research diver program and dive master training and some of them even completed additional courses whilst being here. Special mention to first arrival intern Orlando Kirby-Knox, who’s energy and passion for marine biology has been missed. This team were amongst the pioneer interns and were with us from the beginning of setting up the Raja location. They stayed positive and committed when facing the challenges of a new project head on and were dedicated to setting up the project for future interns to come. Their commitment to project development puts them in the IOP hall of fame!
Being a new location, much of the research equipment had to be built on site. The new BRUV structure was quickly and efficiently put together by a collaboration of interns. The new structure for the coral nursery was constructed in the nearby town by members of the Papuan community and was placed on the Scuba Republic House Reef by the interns under supervision of Scientific Director Pascal. Other equipment, such as measuring devices for the sizing workshop and various other training structures was also put together by dedicated and eager interns.
Since our establishment on November 1st we have completed 22 ecology courses all resulting in new speciality certifications and new interns becoming conservation role models. The shark speciality has been proven to be extra relevant in Raja since we see such and abundance on dives. Many of the reef species are seen almost daily and are equally exiting to spot every time. The manta course specifically has attracted a lot of interest since oceanic mantas started being spotted on nearby dive sites in the beginning of January and are expected to hang around for at least a couple of months. The turtle certification has turned out to be extremely relevant here since we discovered that an aggregation of massive green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) that have a cleaning station on one of the dive sites.
Coming to a remote place like Raja we have had to acknowledge the fact that life in West Papua is not as easy to predict as in the other locations. We have had to learn to be a lot more flexible with the day-to-day planning of dives and other activities. The schedule has often been changed last minute and we have learned to always have a backup plan with other activities or different dive sites. The dive sites, however, have never disappointed! After the first few dives in the area, we had to acknowledge the fact that there were simply too many fish for our traditional survey method. Therefore, during survey dives on some of the dive sites we have split the fish families into two groups. Each buddy team has one diver covering three groups and another covering the other four. This was the only way we could ensure that we didn’t miss any species during the survey dives.
It has been amazing to discover the overwhelming abundance of marine diversity and megafauna that Raja Ampat has to offer and we are still just scratching the surface. Some of the top experiences the interns hang on to are seeing four different shark species on one dive (which is not unusual here), including the exciting Indonesian Wobbegong (Orectolobus leptolineatus). Seeing an Oceanic Manta (Mobula birostris) sparked excitement within our research team at the famous Blue Magic dive site. Other sightings have included Reef Mantas (Mobula alfredi), Short Horned Pygmy Devil Rays (Mobula hulii), and a Common Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncates) underwater! Cetaceans are sighted almost daily from the boat and the shore, including Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncates), Spinner Dolphins (Stenella longirostris), Short Finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), Dugongs (Dugong dugon) and an impressive Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera brydei). We cannot wait to see what else we are going to find!
Program Coordinator and Dive Instructor
There has been a lot of excitement surrounding the newly established Raja Ampat Project for staff and interns alike. I am delighted to have joined the team here as the program coordinator, having previously worked in the same role at the Bira Project. With the establishment of the Raja Ampat Project, we have welcomed faces from far and wide. Interns finish their journeys to us by taking the ferry from Sorong in mainland Papua across to the beautiful, almost untouched island of Waigeo and meet us at our base camp here at Scuba Republic in Raja Ampat. After long travels from around the global, everyone is very happy to settle into their new jungle home surrounded by an abundance of terrestrial and marine wildlife alike.
Excited new interns start their projects by experiencing the unmatched diving that Raja Ampat has to offer from day one (after gaining permits for the Marine Protected Area of course). They then giant stride into the deep end (off the jetty), continuing their dive education through confined dives, training dives and workshops to shape them as awesome dive professionals. All the while, they quickly progress through their initial research diver training to become fully fledged members of the research team and taking valuable data through survey dives, BRUVs, citizen science dives and much more!
Being in such a remote location involves making your own fun; outside of in-project activities, interns enjoy watching the stunning sunsets that Raja Ampat has to offer, night snorkelling on our House Reef, day trips to the beautiful Kalibiru (Blue River), admiring birds of paradise, visiting the local village and playing lots of card games!
In the month of November, we welcomed our 10 pioneer researchers and divemaster trainees: Iris from the USA, Tally & Tom from the UK, Dorianne & Sarah from France, Orlando from Australia, Anne from Germany, Riccardo from Italy, Pavel and Diana from Belarus. They got stuck in from the get-go with the excitement and challenges associated with being the first of their kind here in Raja Ampat, and the success and atmosphere created in the first few months here is down to their hard work and passionate attitudes towards all aspects of the project.
As we settled into our new jungle home and some of our beloved pioneers began to return back to their countries or continue exploring Indonesia, we had 8 new ocean warriors join our team in the month of December and January, all bringing new enthusiasm and excitement towards the project. We welcomed Romane & Coralie from France, Nelly from Indonesia, Shae from the USA, Jonah from Germany, Tom from Australia, Natalie from the UK and Rita from Spain. We are so grateful to all of these awesome characters for how they have helped shape the project here in Raja Ampat, it really wouldn’t be what it is without them. Thank you guys!!
Coral Restoration and Nursery Project
We kicked off our coral restoration project here on the Scuba Republic House Reef in the month of November, with the interns excitedly installing 2 brand new coral restoration tables and propagating a massive 272 baby colonies which have been thriving ever since. Seeing mortality in only 3 nubbins, I am very happy to report that our restorations efforts have taken off well, with all remaining nubbins starting to encrust happily in our nursery using the floating rope method under the instructive guidance of our partners Ocean Gardener.
Since the establishment of the Raja Ampat project, we are pleased to announce that 12 new Ocean Gardener Coral Divers are loose in the oceans sharing their knowledge and passion for coral education, protection and restoration.
During November, we also established a semi-permanent CoralWatch sight, tagging 20 corals across the 4 growth forms (branching, massive, plate and soft) to undertake reef health monitoring through CoralWatch surveys on a bi-weekly basis. With the help of our pioneer divemaster mapping project – we now have a very accurate map of these corals on the House Reef, which we have used to complete 5 CoralWatch surveys since its establishment, monitoring bleaching effects over time, and providing insightful 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.
Since setting up our project here in Raja Ampat, we have been undertaking important marine debris clean ups since the get-go. Dive Against Debris dedicated dives have been occurring bi-weekly in an effort to rid the ocean of trash. Across 6 Dives Against Debris, we have now removed 24kg of marine debris from the beautiful House Reef. We have found that fishing gear has been the primary culprit of entanglement in the reef, with the most common items being fishing line, nets, fishing hooks and rope. We have also brought up many plastic bottles, plastic packaging, with some additional finds of shoes, buckets and a firehose. Our interns still continue to treat every dive as a dive against debris, contributing to cleaning the oceans and filling their BCD pockets with trash they find, everywhere they go.