Absolutely, my most favourite thing about diving in the megadiverse region of Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia is that there is always something new to see. Without fail, every trip that I have made to Raja Ampat I have seen something that is new to me, whether it be a new species or behaviour. I was excited to be joined by 15 fantastic guests from Dive Worldwide to explore this amazing area for ten days aboard the Indo Siren. For the majority, this was their first visit to the area and for some their first dives in the fabled Coral Triangle. I don't believe I'm overstepping to say they weren't at all disappointed!
Each day of the trip I gave a lecture about the local marine life. On this trip, amongst other topics, I talked about common reef behaviours, why reef fishes are so colourful and some basic reef ecology. I believe that so often we can visit these far flung reefs and miss much of their majesty. Through my talks I aim for the guests to get more out of their diving by looking at the reef a little more closely. The best way is just by scrutinising the interactions they see and taking time to really watch the animals they see. I was happy to see the guests even got a little excited about parasites (a subject I find fascinating), and there was an isopod parasite on a cardinalfish at the last night's photo competition.
Of course, as well as the smaller critters, we were happy with sightings of both species of manta rays - the oceanic and reef species. Plus we saw walking and wobbegong sharks, as well as Rhinopias scorpionfish and other gems. All obviously had the stunning backdrop of Raja Ampat's glorious reefs. Probably my highlight was a very young pinnate batfish found by repeat guest Annie. She found the small fish in a little cave where it was swimming just like the toxic flatworm that it mimics. This was a really special find.
After this trip I'm really looking forward to my next trip with Dive Worldwide in August 2018 to my second home of Wakatobi Dive Resort in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. I spent many months here conducting fieldwork for my PhD on the biology and conservation of pygmy seahorses. It will be great to dive the reefs again that I know so well and see if some of my old buddies above and below the waves are still resident.
About Richard Smith: A British underwater photographer and writer, Richard aspires to promote an appreciation for the ocean's inhabitants and raise awareness of marine conservation issues through his images. A marine biologist by training, Richard's pioneering research on the biology and conservation of pygmy seahorses, led to the first PhD on these enigmatic fishes. Over the past decade, Richard's photographs and marine life focused features have appeared in a wide variety of publications around the world. Richard leads expeditions where the aim is for participants to get more from their diving and photography by learning about the marine environment through marine biology lectures.