(Editor’s note: Conservancy Senior Marine Scientist Alison Green is on an expedition to the Raja Ampat islands in Indonesia — amidst some of the most spectacular and biodiverse coral reef ecosystems in the world. Catch up on all her posts from the expedition.)

This afternoon we went looking for a place that local villagers had told us about — a marine lagoon tucked away in the back of a long bay on Jef Pele Island.

According to local legends, this is a sacred place inhabited by red dolphins. So after we’d finished our dives we decided to go exploring to see if we could find it.

We jumped in the dingy and motored as far back into the bay as we could. When we got there, we could see what looked like a small channel opening into the bay behind the reef. 

Was this the entrance to the sacred lagoon?

We carefully made our way over the reef and into the narrow channel, which opened up into an enclosed marine lagoon — complete with hard and soft corals, sponges, algae and coral reef fishes!

There were also large graceful jellyfish that we’d only ever seen in one or two places before — marine lakes inside other karst islands in the Berau (East Kalimantan) and Palau. In each of those places, the jellyfish have lost their sting and there are different species in each place. So who knows, perhaps these are a new species?

We all wanted to snorkel in the lagoon but were worried about crocodiles. Eventually curiosity got the better of Andreas Muljadi and Ken Wiedenhoeft (captain of our liveaboard dive boat, Puti Raja) and they jumped in and took photos and video of the jellyfish — while staying very close to the boat!

We didn’t find any red dolphins, but we did find a beautiful lagoon with steep limestone cliffs and lush vegetation hanging over the water. The lagoon was very tranquil and quiet, except for the occasional raucous call of white cockatoos and hornbills flying overhead. It was a magical place.

Places like this are special and unique, and need to be a high priority for protection in the marine protected area (MPA). Fortunately, some local villages already protect this area, because they believe it is sacred. Hopefully the MPA can reinforce this traditional protection — and provide for the long term protection — of this special place.

(Image 1: Sacred lagoon on Jef Pele Island – a magical place. Credit: JosephineWiedenhoeft. Video: Jellyfish in sacred lagoon, Jef Pele Island Footage: Andreas Muljadi.)

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  1. I cannot believe I missed this! Definitely a great conservation find!

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