Updated: Feb 25, 2021
Nestled at the heart of the Coral Triangle, Indonesia's remote Raja Ampat archipelago is like nowhere else on earth. With new species still being discovered every year, Raja boasts the richest subsurface biodiversity in the world. Seven protect marine areas covering an area of 183,000 square kilometers are home to around 1,000 species of tropical fish, 75% of the world's coral species, 13 marine mammals, and five of the seven species of sea turtle.
With such an array of marine life on offer, it's no wonder Raja Ampat draws divers from across the globe, excited at the chance to discover weird and wonderful species thriving in the region's pristine habitats. Here are just a few of the species you can expect to spot:
Raja Ampat Epaulette Shark
The epaulette shark is one of nine species of small bamboo or carpet shark that walks across the seabed in search of prey. Although epaullete sharks are found throughout the Indo-Pacific, each region, including Raja Ampat, has its own endemic variety. Their nocturnal habits mean they are most commonly found in shallow water at dawn or dusk, and during the day they hide away in cracks and crevices in the reef.
This tiny camouflaged seahorse is a popular subject for many macro photographers but is incredibly difficult to spot. Found only within the Coral Triangle, individuals grow to around 2.5cm and spend their entire lives on a single gorgonian. Their coloring and body shape mimics that of their host coral, and numerous pairs can often be found on the same sea fan.
It may look innocuous at first glance, but the blue-ringed octopus is one of the deadliest creatures in the sea. Despite their small size and docile nature, they hunt prey such as crabs, shrimp, and small fish using a paralyzing venom 1,000 times more lethal than cyanide. Individuals flash their notorious iridescent blue rings as a warning to potential predators when under threat.
The hairy, or striated, frogfish is a type of anglerfish that entices prey using a lure on the top of their head. They are masters of camouflage, using their hairy appearance to blend like a chameleon with surrounding corals and seaweeds. Despite being slow-moving, frogfish are carnivores, and once their prey is within range, they engulf it within a split second with the fastest strike speed of any animal on earth.
Tasselled Wobbegong Shark
Another species of carpet shark, the tasseled wobbegong spends its life on the seafloor, quietly waiting for unsuspecting prey to swim within range. It's speckled coloring and the many fronds that fringe its head and mouth give it the perfect disguise to blend in amongst its reef habitat. The word 'wobbegong' is thought to have originated from the Aboriginal term 'shaggy beard', a reference to the shark's unique disguise.
Peacock Mantis Shrimp
The beautifully vibrant peacock mantis shrimp is one of 450 species of mantis shrimp that use their modified front appendages to 'punch' their prey. This occurs with such force that the acceleration creates a sonic shock wave to further incapacitate their victim. Mantis shrimps live in pairs in rocky burrows along the reef and mate for life. It is thought they use their bright colors as a means of communication or for camouflage.