Diving Raja Ampat is a mixture of Dr. Seuss and Disney, the unthinkable meets the unreal. It has been described as “ultramarine” and I would be inclined to agree.
The species list reads like a who’s who of the underwater world, everything from wobegongs to flasher wrasse to giant mantas. It truly is the center of biodiversity for the planet. Many species we only see a handful of, but that is in keeping with the way I learned about biodiversity. I was told to picture a glass jar filled with colored marbles. If there are only blue and white marbles, there will be many of each color, a good example of poor biodiversity. However, if you have a multitude of species, and thus a multitude of different color marbles, then the jar will be a kaleidoscope of color but with only enough room for a few of each. This is how I would describe Raja Ampat.
But let’s get back to Dr. Seuss and Disney. Let’s set the backdrop for this amazing multi act play. As I’m swimming along the incredible slopes and walls, I am humbled by the sheer size, number, and health of the sea fans here. It is truly an enchanted forest of fans. They cover practically every square inch of available benthic space. I first picture a sea of little Japanese women with their colorful fans all open and waving in the current. But then I realize that this is more surreal and Dr. Seuss comes to mind. I have visions of the oversized and truly mythical horn instruments in the books and I see these oversized and seemingly mythical sea fans in the same light. The colors are a palate of muted white, pink, yellow and green. The impressionist painters could not have picked a more perfect blend of pastels and they remind me of children’s sidewalk chalk. I become lost in the never ending forest of beauty.
In what little extra space is available on the floor of the sea, bright colored dendronepthia in hues of red and purple squeeze in along with squat yellow and green soft corals that remind me of stalks of cauliflower. Black and white and green crinoids perch themselves on top of every available soft coral. As delicate as china, green and yellow tubestrea hard corals shoot up like pine trees in the ever crowded forest. Black coral trees, six and eight feet high, sway in the current. Finally, sprinkled throughout, the eye catching colors of the sea squirts complete the landscape. Their white, orange and blue gourd shaped bodies creating a lookout for blennies on the go.
Dr. Seuss has illustrated this landscape, I am certain. Disney, ever the creator of magic, filled in the gaps with over 1300 species of fish, to create an unthinkable stage.