Taking in Fish Geek Week at Raj Ampat’s Misool resort

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Whale shark. Photo: Mark Erdman

Sarah Ford

If you’re a passionate diver, interested in identifying fish and their behaviour, and keen on conservation you would really love Fish Geek Week at the Misool Resort in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat.

Fish Geek Week runs annually during April/May and this is where Conservation International’s Dr Mark Erdmann and Misool’s Sabine Templeton talk about why they have dedicated themselves to this mysterious underwater world.

Dr Mark Erdmann discusses a newly found species of fangblenny.

The Raja Ampat archipelago comprises 1500 islands just off Sorong in West Papua and is arguably the worlds’ most marine biodiverse environment. Misool is a dive resort and conservation centre just south of the equator inside a No-Take-Zone and a shark and manta sanctuary of 46,000 sq km around the island of Batbitum.

Misool used to be a shark finning site but thanks to resort founders, Andrew and Marit Miners, the practice was stopped and sharks protected. Now the shark population inside the no take zone is 25% higher than just outside it.

Misool Resort is a paradise. Our villa overlooks the house reef and spectacular Fiabacet dive site. Turquoise waters… a white sandy beach. We frequently saw baby blacktip sharks and turtles swim close by.

Walking sharks, wobbegong sharks, whale sharks…

As you might imagine the diving is simply amazing. Every imaginable tropical fish and creature lives nearby. Some highlights were mantas (oceanic and reef), epaulette (walking sharks), wobbegong sharks and so many pygmy seahorses I couldn’t take all of them in. And set against beautiful large gorgonian fans! An abundance of squid, cuttlefish, squat lobsters, sharks, barracuda, large Napoleon wrasse, big schools of humphead parrot fish and sweetlips.

Protection paid for

The Misool Foundation works with the local community to protect some of these reefs, the world’s richest. They practise sustainable tourism, including paying rangers to protect the area. The Foundation also provides teachers at the local school and pre-school.

Sweetlips ball ribbonned and diagonally banded fish

Another exciting business project aims to recycle ocean bound plastic and reward contributors with a bank balance while educating the young about protecting the marine environment.

Every evening and in some days dive guests attend lectures with fascinating discussions on marine life.

Hemiscyllium galei

Knowing more about your world

Dr Mark Erdmann must be the world expert on Blennies. Here in West Papua he has a great ‘library’ of them – 74 different sorts in fact and with all but three found at between three and 20 metres depths. These pretty little herbivores with blunt heads, some with cirri tentacles, grow to about 6cm, are bottom dwellers and often found hiding in holes. Fourteen species are endemic in Raja Ampat.

Mark introduces the huge variety of coral reef fishes here, and how to identify them. His wide knowledge extends to his own discovery of many new species.

The talks on sharks include the Walking Shark, Whale Shark and Wobbegong sharks; of the six varieties of Wobbegong found globally, three are in West Papua. Walking sharks which are closely related to bamboo sharks and usually grow to 65-75 cm, look more like a gecko with their short nose, elevated eyes and two dorsal fins.

They use their pectoral and pelvic fins to ‘walk’ on, and are active at night. Mark has discovered three different species of them around West Papua. Sabine Templeton, who runs the dive centre, gave a great talk titled ‘The Secret Life of Manta Rays’ – their history and evolution and the difference between Reef Manta and Oceanic Manta.

Misool marine lake jellyfish

At other times we learned about Misool’s founders Andrew and Marit Miners, the hard times and challenges they faced, and how they went about redefining sustainable tourism in this isolated area. Last year they were recognised as Scuba Diving Sea Heroes by Scuba Diving Magazine.

Tagging Mantas

One most exciting expedition during Fish Geek Week was going to Magic Mountain with Mark to witness his tagging of Mantas. Fourteen were so identified while we were there.

In all about 930 Manta have been identified with some of them tagged so they can be tracked in the area. My family was lucky. We were able to ‘adopt’ a large black Oceanic Manta we snorkelled with, a pregnant female we named Aroha.

Manta ray

Misool is totally unique, a long way to travel to get there, but seeing dedicated people strive to protect the marine environment up close is so heartening. What they are doing is inspirational in this magical place, an example for the rest of the world.

Atelomycterus erdmanni, a new species of walking shark.

And Fish Geek Week was great fun! A rewarding dimension to a great dive holiday.

You too can become a Fish Geek!

Footnote in from Mark

“I just received confirmation that one of the gobies I collected while on the Fish Geek Week is definitely a new species and we are moving forward with a name honouring Andrew and Marit Miners, the founders of Misool EcoResort. Finding a new species is always a cool thing!.

To watch on YouTube:

‘Tales by Light’ Season 3 ‘Paradise in Peril’ by Shawn Heinrichs

and

‘The Last Resort’ – Misool Eco Resort Raja Ampat

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