The South: Misool
Like many of our Mermaid II trips, we started in the south of Raja Ampat known as Misool. Here the iconic karst islands dot the liquid blue landscape and provide us with endless diving possibilities. In the three days we spent in Misool we witnessed oceanic and reef mantas going in for their morning cleaning sessions while grey reef sharks and shoals of fusilers darted about in the blue. The night dives here offered rare glimpses at the endemic Raja epaulette walking shark, which uses its fins to shuffle about the reef, rather than for swimming. The visibility was unusually good in the south and allowed the light to penetrate for many many meters, illuminating the brilliant colors of the soft coral and layers of sea fans where we found dozens of pigmy seahorses!
Heading north from Misool we stopped for a full day to explore the much smaller set of islands known as Penemu. This is the location of one of the famous viewpoints offering breathtaking views of the turquoise lagoons. More than that, the diving here is top notch. The sites around Penemu are characterized by expansive hard coral reefs and some very fishy dives. Large schools of barracudas hung on the fringes of the reef while guests went searching for the legendary wobbegong, which they found in abundance. In the shallows, we had an unusual encounter with one of the largest congregations of fusilers I’ve ever seen, and just beneath the surface. Schools of fusilers are a staple for any dive site in Raja, however to have so many in one small area is a bit unusual. I suspect they were there for mating, but whatever the reason, it was absolutely stunning to watch them as they formed rivers and mountains over the reeftops.
North: Kawe-Dampier Strait
We spent the rest of the trip in what most people refer to as the north, cruising around the islands of Kawe and then the famous Dampier Strait. Kawe was out of this world good with its vibrant reefs, clear water, and super fishy sites. It was also in Kawe were we had a rare encounter with a giant marbled ray which couldn’t care less about us as it slowly munched away on what I assume was a large crustacean. Moving into the Dampier Strait we took advantage of the diverse dive sites and plunged beneath jetties whose pilings are covered in giant soft coral colonies and also create a sort of artificial reef which bring in an abundance of marine life. We even did a night dive on one of the jetties as it is host to some wonderful critters like frogfish, bobtail squid, seahorses and so much more. We also did our regular dive through the mangroves which is a truly magical experience. The beginning of the mangrove dive was calm and relaxing as it normally is. Guests enjoyed being in the serene environment where the blue sky, dense mangrove canopy, and lush reefscape are all stitched together by the arching mangrove roots. The mellow mood of the dive was quickly shattered and everyone’s heart began pumping just a little bit faster when hundreds and hundreds of jack fish and emperor fish abruptly invaded the reef in a full on feeding frenzy as they hunted the schools of silversides.
March 20-28, 2018