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Misool Eco Resort

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S: Misool Eco Resort, Raja Ampat, Indonesia - May 2011

BC: Kirsten A. Oulton Michael Barontseff | Nudi Rock and Whale Rock

FC: Misool Eco Resort Raja Ampat, Indonesia May 2011

1: Michael and Kirsten do a once-in-a-lifetime dive trip to explore the biodiversity of Raja Ampat.

3: Our destination was Misool Eco Resort. This an exclusive dive resort and conservation centre is located in the southern part of Raja Ampat, nestled deep in a vast archipelago of uninhabited islands, in the heart of marine biodiversity known as the Coral Triangle. The island is surrounded by a 1,220 sq km No-Take Zone. With just nine guest cottages, we would be able to experience this diving splendor tucked away from the rest of the world... But first, we had to get there!

4: _ _ _ _ _ | _ _ | _ _ _ | Getting to Misool is done in stages. First, you start by driving from Acton to Mississauga (1 hour) and taking a cab to Toronto (0.5 hour), waiting at the terminal (2 hours), and then flying from Toronto to Hong Kong (15 hours).

5: Stopover (3 hours) Flight from Hong Kong to Jakarta (5 hours) Overnight in Jakarta (10 hours) Flight from Jakarta to Makassar (2.5 hours) Stopover (2 hours) Flight from Makassar to Sorong (3 hours) Bus ride to the docks (2 hours) Speedboat from Sorong to Misool (7 hours) | _ _ _ | _ _ _ | _ _ _ _ | _ _ _ | _ _ _ | _ _ _ | _ _ _ | _ _ _ | So in as little as 53 hours, you can get to the Misool Eco Resort! That was the good news, since it actually takes a day longer to get back due to flight connections. We learned that flights in Indonesia operate by different rules. Departure and arrival times are estimates, more than guarantees, and just because your ticket says Jakarta to Sorong does not mean you're not going to stop at one or more other islands along the way!

6: Sorong airport... at long last! | The boat ride to Batbatim Island starts here | 53 hours after we left, we enter our water cottage. | Really bad parallel parking | Karst Islands

9: Our water cottages was built on stilts over the quiet waters of the north lagoon, with stairs from our private veranda down into the ocean, with the house reef just a few fin-kicks away. Accordian-style glass doors could be moved to provide an unobstructed view of bay from our bed. Paradise!

10: Maxi The Taxi

11: Where are the chili peppers hidden today?

14: Our dive boat companions... Team Indonesia and two Canucks! | Ratna Suranti, Michael Sjukri, Dady Alquadry, _____ | Sascha Janson, Michael Sjukri, Herry Kabuhung, Maxi Diver, Bram Doali, _____, Nicholas Saputra

15: Riri, the pigeon, was rescued from a monitor lizard. Her foot was wounded, but it doesn't matter. She has learned to train scuba divers to feed her bite-sized morsels of papaya and banana.

16: The bathroom featured a shower open to the sky above. Waste water was purified through a series of gardens before returning to the sea.

18: Blue-spotted stingray | Riri | The Dive Shop

19: Green Sea Turtle | A blacktip shark swimming under our bungalow

20: Water Cottage # 6 - Home Sweet Home

21: Every single piece of lumber used to build Misool Eco Resort was milled from salvaged driftwood and free-fallen timbers collected in Raja Ampat and the nearby island of Seram.

22: The dive shop gave us plenty of room for our gear. Wetsuits, BCDs and fins went outside with the rinse tanks. Inside was the long table for the photographic equipment, dive computers, lights masks and the dive site maps.

24: Let's go diving! | Our dive boat held five local Indonesian divers (including the local film star Nicholas Saputra) plus the two of us. Some of these divers were filming a special on Raja Ampat's biodiversity for the Indonesian government, and had very serious underwater cameras. None of the following underwater photos were taken by us... they have been supplied by other divers, including Clifford Wong & Audrey Yau, Georges & Isabel Frech-Lopez, Michael Sjukrie and Setiadi Darmawan.

26: Raja Ampat (“The Four Kings”) is a new regency in the Indonesian province of West Papua, encompassing more than 40,000 km. This underwater kingdom is a spellbinding archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays and shoals surrounding the four main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo, and the smaller island of Kofiau. This group of majestic islands lies in the heart of the coral triangle, the most bio-diverse marine region on earth. A startling diversity of habitats are available: wave-pounded slopes drop away beneath karst cliffs; deep, nutrient-rich bays; blue water mangrove nurseries and plankton-rich upwellings. This provides a home to a unique assemblage of species that produce the most impressive species lists ever compiled for a coral reef system of this size. The area's massive coral colonies, along with relatively high sea surface temperatures, suggest that its reefs may be relatively resistant to threats like coral bleaching and coral disease, which now jeopardize the survival of other coral ecosystems around the world. The Raja Ampat islands are remote and relatively undisturbed by humans. According to Conservation International, marine surveys suggest that the marine life diversity in the Raja Ampat area is the highest recorded on earth. Diversity is considerably greater than any other area sampled in the Coral Triangle composed of Indonesia, Philippines and Papua New Guinea. The high marine diversity in Raja Ampat is strongly influenced by its position between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as coral and fish larvae are more easily shared between the two oceans. Raja Ampat's coral diversity, resilience, and role as a source for larval dispersal make it a global priority for marine protection. The variety of marine life is staggering: 1,606 species of reef fish in the Bird’s Head Seascape 603 species of hard coral recorded in the Bird’s Head Seascape 75% of all known coral species in the world 10 times the number of hard coral species found in the entire Caribbean 13 species of Marine Mammals in the Bird’s Head Seascape This is our dream: to dive Raja Ampat and experience this miracle of biodiversity.

29: Before Misool Eco Resort was established, this quiet bay was a cleaning station for shark fishing boats. As a result, the few remaining sharks avoided the area. Very few shark sanctuaries exist today. Palau and the Maldives have established nation-wide shark sanctuaries only recently. The newest one was just declared this year in Raja Ampat. Shark Savers partnered with the Misool Eco Resort, the dive tourism community, local leaders, and partner NGOs to successfully petition the Raja Ampat Regency to prohibit all fishing of sharks, manta rays, and mobulas in the entirety of Raja Ampat. Turtles, dugongs and live reef fish are now also protected under the new Regency law, and destructive practices including poison and bomb fishing, compressor fishing, purse seines are to be prohibited. This was a landmark decision, especially considering the fact that Indonesia is the world's largest shark fishery. The country has been methodically stripping its most valuable marine resources to sell to China, where increasing numbers of consumers demand shark fin soup. A 1,220 square kilometer no take zone was established around the resort, patrolled regularly by the Ranger Patrol. In the last two years, sharks have returned to the area. Swift, energetic hunters, blacktip sharks are still described as "timid" compared to other large requiem sharks. Females give birth to 1 to 10 pups every other year. Young blacktips spend the first months of their lives in shallow nurseries, and grown females will return to the nurseries where they were born to give birth themselves. Currently, more than a dozen blacktip shark pups circle the bay, easily seen from the overwater bungalows, and it is hoped that they will return here as adults to bear new pups in the future.

30: Blacktip shark pup chasing a school of sardines | Adult blacktips are known to leap out of the water and spin three to four times about their axis before landing. However, as pups, they are slow-moving and need to work cooperatively with the trevally (jacks), which are fast, aggressive hunters. The trevally herd the minnows into the shallows. The blacktips mirror this activity, allowing the swifter jacks to drive the fish into their reach.

31: Clown Triggerfish | Barracuda | Lionfish | Clove Polyps

32: Hawkfish

33: One of the most astonishing things about diving Raja Ampat are the incredibly lush corals. It is like swimming through a technicolour garden, where the corals grow in such a profusion of shapes and colours that it is hard to focus on any one thing amidst the bewildering array. Hard corals produce calcium carbonate skeletons and actually "build" reefs, laying the foundations for future coral growth. Soft corals contain minute, spiny skeletal elements called sclerites which provides some degree of support and give their flesh a spiky, grainy texture that deters predators. Some of the most unbelievable Dendronephtya soft corals can be found here, each with commensal fish, shrimp and crabs that mimic their colours and textures. Schools of anthias in gold and pink glitter in the ocean blue until startled, darting to hide themselves among the coral. | Anthias | Dendronephyta

34: Nudibranchs are one of the most common delights of diving Raja Ampat. They are soft-bodied, marine gastropod mollusks which shed their shell after their larval stage. Every dive, you will find two or or more nudibranchs, glittering amongst the corals like jewels. Their extraordinary colours and delightful forms make them a favorite among the photographers. (Above right) A string of nudibranch eggs.

36: Candy Crab | Electric (Disco) Clam | Orangutan Crab

37: Porcelain Crab

40: The pygmy seahorse is tiny: no larger than 2.4 cm. It has evolved to resemble its host. The tubercles and truncated snout match the color and shape of the polyps of the host gorgonian, while its body matches the stem. We were lucky enough to see them on almost every dive, but finding them is hard! Even if you are told that there is a seahorse on a given sea fan, you have to search one to two square feet of branches to locate the tiny seahorse. The primary predator of pygmy seahorses is the hawkfish.

41: Clockwise from top right: green moray eel, pyjama cardinalfish and lionfish.

42: Mantis Shrimp

43: Pygmy Seahorse

45: Clownfish

46: Panda Butterflyfish | Hawksbill Turtle | Crinoid

47: Batfish

48: Bumphead Parrotfish | Moorish Idol | Giant Clam

49: Anthias

50: Batfish | Painted Rock Lobster

51: The wobbegong is a carpet shark found between Indonesia and Australia. The word wobbegong is believed to come from an Australian Aboriginal language, meaning "shaggy beard", referring to the growths around the mouth of the shark. This camouflaged shark sits on the bottom, hoping to amush unwary fish.

52: Giant Clam

53: Schooling Bannerfish

54: Our trip to Raja Ampat was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore some of the most pristine reefs on the planet. We will never forget the incredible corals, fish and invertebrates that we saw here. We were honoured to be able to share this journey with a great group of divers (and two snorkelers) who each brought something special to the mix. To everyone at Misool Eco Resort, we offer our sincere thanks for personally guiding us to some of the most spectacular finds. We send extra-special thanks to Maxi the Taxi, without whose inexhaustable tanks our dives would have been much shortened!

57: One of the really great things about traveling are the signs. This wonderful specimen was found in the elevator of the hotel in Sorong. The power didn't go out while we were in the elevator, but when it did go out later that night, we were relieved to note that the oxygen did, indeed, continue to flow. Running a close second in the funny signs competition was a little hand-written note tacked to a little doorbell-type button in a restaurant reading "Press bottom for service."

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