More than 30 years ago, a Dutch diver and history enthusiast, Max Ammer, was told by his host, a veteran, about a plane from World War II that had sunk in Indonesian waters. Soon after, the man went on a four-month expedition through various archipelagos. Among them, a place that made a deep impression on him was Raja Ampat, in the West Papua province of Indonesia.
Located in the heart of the Coral Triangle, the Raja Ampat Marine Protected Area Network spans over 4 million hectares and includes approximately 1,500 islands. Despite the rich marine biodiversity and poetic beauty, thanks to its relatively rugged location, Raja Ampat has avoided the “fate” of becoming a tourist area, safely protecting more than 1600 species of fish. and 75% of all known coral species around the world.
“There are impossibly beautiful areas and hundreds of other beautiful coral gardens.”
His love for natural beauty and the local community prompted him to open Kri Eco Dive Resort in 1994, with the aim of training local divers, giving people access to “the unspoiled aquatic world.” Following his success, he went on to open a resort in nearby Sorido Bay, with two hotels operated by Ammer’s Papua Diving.
One of the most successful conservation projects on Earth
Witnessing the brilliant Raja Ampat of today, few would have thought that some 20 years ago, Raja Ampat would have been in decline due to overfishing and unsustainable commercial practices. Fortunately, many conservation initiatives have been born that have helped fish populations increase again, poaching has decreased by about 90%, corals have been restored, and especially shark populations have also returned to calm waters. this jar.
In 2004, Raja Ampat was listed as a protected area with the support of international conservationists as well as local authorities. This is a program to help conserve and restore marine resources, while ensuring food security and sustainable economic benefits for local people.
Conservation areas hire local people to protect and spread traditional knowledge, values and practices, and isolate some areas to allow ecosystems time to recover.
Marit Miners, co-founder of the now famous Misool Eco Resort and Misool Foundation, also successfully implemented a project that demonstrates the importance of engaging the local community to help create a resort that is sustainable in terms of tourism. all aspects.
Marit’s relationship with Raja Ampat begins as a love story. While traveling in Bangkok in 2005, Marit met a man who was passionate about diving and later became her future husband Andrew Miners. On their third date, Andrew invites her to go diving in Raja Ampat.
Biodiversity has yet to be restored after years of destruction by commercial fishing. It prompted the couple to set up the Misool Foundation and Misool Resort right after the tour and gradually became a source of financial support to help sustain the conservation work.
The couple have reached an agreement with the local community to turn Misool Marine Reserve into a “no-go zone”, meaning all fishing and hunting will be banned in the 121,000-plus area. hectares. There is a professional patrol team monitoring the area 24/7 since 2007.
Even in the resort, sustainability is always maintained by using solar energy instead of fossil fuels, collecting rainwater to produce drinking water, having organic fruit and vegetable gardens on site, waste management with the purchase of ocean plastic and garbage to sell to recyclers…
The results obtained were not unexpected. Already in 2007, fish biomass increased by an average of 250%, and sharks that once left began to return to the area.
Ammer also observed positive changes at his two Papua Diving resorts.
About two decades ago, divers counted a record 327 species of fish in a single dive. A decade later, this number has grown to 374 distinct species, seen in just 90 minutes.
“When we first came here, there was a lot of dangerous fishing going on all over Raja Ampat, like bomb fishing, potassium cyanide fishing, shark fishing, logging.”
Gradually, all these activities were wiped out as fishermen found other ways to make a living. Ammer has created favorable conditions for local people, loggers and even illegal turtle and shark hunters to work at the resorts.
Two of Papua Diving’s facilities are also built on what was once a coconut plantation, meaning no primary forest has been cleared for the resort.
The beauty of Raja Ampat
When asked about the ideal and favorite places to dive in Raja Ampat, Ammer said that the list is almost endless.
In addition to the famous Cape Kri reef, the Sardines Reef area is also a favorite spot for divers because it has so many fish that sometimes the fishes block the sunlight. Besides, Melissa’s garden (named after her daughter Ammer) is filled with beautiful hard and soft coral reefs. Or like Otdima is also a hard coral reef, named after the most experienced diving instructor in the area.
Not only under the sea, the scenery on the ground is also extremely poetic with diverse flora and fauna. Tiny drops of water like mushroom caps are scattered, covering the pitcher plants and wild orchids.
The largest terrestrial arthropod, the coconut crab, can be found “flying” among the dense vegetation. Rare birds such as sulfur crested, hornbill or fire kite are also frequently seen.
Mangroves also act as a “baby nursery” and a refuge for flying foxes, fruit bats…
When hiking on the sandy shore, tourists will surely be captivated by the beauty of limestone islands and emerald green lagoons.