The Endemics of Raja Ampat

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Every time I go back to Raja Ampat, I am reminded of what a unique place it is. From the incredible Geological history, to the cultural diversity, to the endemic species that exist here, it is one of the most dynamic places I have visited. This blog is a short blurb dedicated to some of the very unique species in Raja.

Giant Golden Medusa Jelly Fish

I am floating in an aqua green marine lake.  My mask and snorkel allow me to continue marvelling at the sights around me. I am finally seeing the Giant Golden Medusa Jelly Fish after many years of searching, and it is an experience like no other.

There are thousands, if not millions, of bright orange jelly fish swimming all around me. I float in awe, as they swim past I can feel their soft bodies bumping into me and gliding away. Some are as tiny as a small pebble, some are as large as a volley-ball and all of them are stingless.  The light that filters through from above gives them a quality akin to glowing.

These jellies have evolved in marine lakes to be stingless as they have no predators here. These marine lakes are connected to the Ocean through small karst tunnels, allowing small larvae to enter into the lake, but nothing large.

We spend an hour lazily floating in this marine lake, taking hundreds of pictures, and marvelling at these incredibly beautiful creatures.  I drag myself away from this unique experience back to the difficult entrance trail. Its no easy feat getting here, but it was worth all the effort.

Red Bird of Paradise

We are up at 400 am, waiting for our Local Guide Simone to pick us up in his local fishing boat. We are soon motoring up a 2 mile long lagoon in the pitch black. Simone knows his home territory like the back of his hand, and he expertly steers the boat in the dark. I feel like an early explorer, on an expedition into the unknown.

Soon we are walking along a rough trail, with our headlamps on. Soon light starts to slowly filter through the jungle canopy above us, and we are almost at our destination. Our goal is the largest tree, growing on the height of land in this area.

We come to our destination and settle onto rough hewn benches, turn our eyes skyward, and watch as the show begins. Two beautiful birds catch our attention, the Red Bird Of Paradise. The males have iridescent green heads, golden yellow breast, red tail feathers and two wire like long tail feathers that stream out behind them like ribbons. These birds have come to this same tree every dawn to find a mate.

They call, they dance, they gyrate, and hop from branch to branch, shaking their tail feathers to attract attention. It is a sight to behold, made even more special because these birds are endemic to Raja Ampat, and the Red Bird of Paradise is found on only four small islands in Raja Ampat.  We spend 30 min watching this beautiful display in the jungle canopy. Then, as if on cue, the males and females fly away. The show is over, our photos and memories rich with the amazing display of these birds.

 

 

The Raja Ampat Walking Shark

An elusive shark exists in Raja Ampat that can be found in no other place. They call it the Epaulette or walking shark.  This shark adapted to short stints without water during the last ice age, when waters levels fell 150m. By turning off 30% of its brain, slowing its heart rate and breathing rate, the walking shark can survive for up to an hour on dry land. Their fins also act as feet when on dry land, allowing them to move like a lizard so they can continue to search for food or water when on dry land. This shark can be seen in the shallows throughout Raja Ampat and is a very special sight to behold.

There are many many more endemic species to Raja Ampat. The Tassled Wobbegong, 42 reef fish, Wilson’s Bird of Paradise to name a few. This is a place worth exploring!