What makes Raja Ampat (and its manta rays) invincible?
A video of a giant manta ray sighting at Indonesia’s stunning Raja Ampat islands reminds us what’s at stake this World Oceans Day
In a few months’ time, we’ll be setting sail to Indonesia’s Raja Ampat, one of the world’s most unspoilt marine regions with the highest marine biodiversity on Earth. From majestic manta rays (in especially abundant numbers during the December to March manta season) to endangered Pacific leatherback turtles, Raja Ampat boasts single reefs that contain more species than the entire Caribbean combined. If you’re interested in diving, chances are that Raja Ampat is first on your bucket list!
Raja Ampat: Introduction
Located on the edge of the Southern Pacific Ocean and 800 miles (1,300km) north of Darwin, Raja Ampat is home to more than 1,300 species of coral reef fish (about 50% of all known species) and over 600 species of coral (nearly 75% of all known species of reef-building corals).
Amazingly, scientists are still discovering new species in the region on occasion — every one is a vital piece of the ecosystem puzzle that we must help protect.
The world’s most resilient coral reefs?
And with the threat of global warming causing harm to coral reefs elsewhere, Raja Ampat is uniquely considered to be Nature’s Last Frontier because of several unique factors:
- Raja Ampat’s waters are far away from large human populations and activity
- The region is highly biologically productive
- Raja Ampat is well-protected by the Indonesian government, with designated Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) totalling about 3,513 square miles, or 9,100 sq km
- Located in the heart of the Coral Triangle, Raja Ampat is part of the longest continuously populated reef region in the world. With a history dating back 30 million years, coral species have had ample opportunity to evolve into genetically superior, highly resilient variations
- The region’s deep-sea ridges introduce cooler currents into the region that help buffer against rising sea temperatures
We cannot, however, take Raja Ampat’s current blessings for granted. In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report citing that if Earth’s temperature rises by 2 degrees Celsius, it could lead to a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040, including the incredibly biologically diverse Raja Ampat.
“The general takeaway is that these patterns of high diversity may take tens of millions of years to arise, but can be wiped out in a few years by human impacts,” said John Weins, co-researcher and professor at the University of Arizona.
The IPCC report is an urgent call to action. Scientists are reporting that we’ve already lost 50% of the world’s coral reefs. As a cruise line operating in this ecologically sensitive region, we are in a privileged position to do our part by promoting low-impact responsible tourism and educating travelers to the region when we host them on the Aqua Blu.
Manta Rays – Gentle Giants of the Sea
It’s no exaggeration that a trip to Raja Ampat can convince just about anyone that our oceans and seas are worth fighting for.
Recently in May, Damian Young, a tour guide operating in the Raja Ampat islands, came across a magnificent sight while sailing. A manta ray of colossal size, about 23 feet (7 metres) in span appeared before his very eyes, just beneath the water’s surface
Despite their imposing size, manta rays have no stinging barbs or teeth and are some of the most gentle and fascinating creatures you’ll come across while cruising in East Indonesia. These migratory creatures, which show up in large numbers in the region from September through to April, feed on plankton, small shrimps and small fish.
Observing their habits while snorkeling or diving in Raja Ampat is like witnessing a series of National Geographic moments right before your eyes. While they are feeding, manta rays will come together and swim in small circles to concentrate the fish for easy eating, whereas moving constantly helps them gather the food with their distinctive cephalic lobes that act as scoops.
Another unforgettable sight is visiting one of the many manta ray ‘cleaning stations’ in Raja Ampat during manta season, where the rays gather (they sometimes even get into a queue!) to have small fishes remove and eat the ectoparasites on their skin, teeth and gills, as the video below by Conservation International shows:
Although this definitely qualifies as a bucket list experience, observations of manta rays share the limelight with other creatures in a kaleidoscopic underwater world. Aqua Blu is scheduled to sail Raja Ampat every year from December to February, which coincides with the best time to discover the region, as well as the manta ray season!
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