Follow the Raja Ampat Expedition

From November 15-30, Nature Conservancy scientist Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai (Get live updates #raja2011) and I — Dr. Joanne Wilson — are conducting a monitoring expedition to Indonesia’s Raja Ampat (meaning, in Bahasa Indonesian, “the Four Kings”).

We’re sailing off with a wealth of questions about how to best protect one of the world’s most spectacular marine environments. The trip should yield answers to these questions — and it should also yield some great stories, stunning images and on-location footage. Technology permitting, we’ll be posting all those things and more right here on this blog over the next several weeks.

We hope you’ll bookmark this page so we can share our progress and findings with you. Come aboard and join the expedition.

Learn how you can support our work.


The 4 Kings in 15 Days

November 15, 2011

We’re journeying to the global center of marine biodiversity. Care to come along?

Our primary objective is gathering information that will help us refine how we go about protecting one of the world’s most spectacular marine environments, which provides local people with the food and income they need to survive. We’re sailing off with a wealth of questions, but there are three especially pressing issues for us — and for anyone interested in the health of our planet’s coral reefs.

See a slideshow and learn more about the Conservancy’s involvement in the game-changing Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security.

Read the Full Post


Setting Out to Sea

November 16, 2011

The Putiraja

Around 9 pm, we motored slowly out of Sorong Harbor on the Putiraja, leaving the shore lights behind us. The team has been excited all day as we finalized our itinerary, organized last minute logistics and packed the remaining gear.

Our departure was far from quiet. Trips like this bring out friendly competition between team members, with everyone retelling “big fish” stories from previous dive adventures. That was followed, of course, by an extensive wish list of what everyone hopes to see or experience on this trip to Misool. Somehow, I am not worried about meeting their expectations — Misool is stunning both above and below the water, and no one is going to be disappointed.

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Taking in the Heart of the Coral Triangle

November 17, 2011

The expedition team trains for the field.

We made it! After 16 hours of blissfully calm and almost uneventful steaming on the Putiraja, we arrived at the Conservancy’s Misool field station on a perfect, sunny afternoon. We’ve met up with the remaining team members from Wildlife Conservation Society and our local community volunteers from Misool.

We spent our time on the boat organizing our many underwater data sheets to record our observations and doing important but small things like tying the pencils to our slates to ensure we don’t lose them underwater. On the way, we stopped to buy some fresh fish from a local fisherman.

Read the Full Post


Map of Raja Ampat and the Coral Triangle

Where in the world is Raja Ampat? Check out this map of the Coral Triangle or
explore an interactive map of the region.

View a larger version of this Coral Triangle map or find
Raja Ampat on this interactive map.


First Impressions

November 18, 2011

Raja Ampat islands

Yesterday afternoon, we picked up the rest of our team from the Conservancy’s Misool field station and headed southwest to start our surveys at the edge of the Misool marine protected area. There is nothing quite like waking up to a perfectly calm, clear ocean with rugged, forest-clad limestone mountains all around you. Breathtaking!

But we are here to work (!).

Our reef health team consists of six people: three from the Conservancy and three volunteers from the local Misool community.

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What Does a Resilient Reef Look Like?

November 21, 2011

Soft corals at Jef Pele

I am often asked to explain how climate change affects our work with Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Why do we invest time and money in tropical MPAs if climate change impacts like coral bleaching events and ocean acidification are likely to become even more severe?

It’s true that periods of unusually warm ocean temperatures have already caused mass coral bleaching like we witnessed during the global bleaching event recorded in 1998 that is estimated to have killed 16 percent of the world’s reefs. But we know that many coral reefs survived this bleaching event.

What if you could use basic ecological data to predict which reefs might not bleach, or might recover quickly from future bleaching events. And what if you could then use this information to ensure these areas are included in MPAs?

Read the Full Post



The Long and Short of Reef Health Monitoring

November 22, 2011

Misool reefs and fish

Misool. Perfect one day, even better the next. The weather is so calm we could be forgiven for thinking we’re diving in a lake! We’re on schedule, fitting in three dives per day, and our evenings on the boat are busy with everyone entering pages of fish and coral data into the computer.

Two days ago, we were thrilled to see a “fish ball” — a school of hundreds of thousands of anchovies whirling above us, trying to escape the many hungry predators lurking at the ball’s edges. These are some of the smallest fish on the reef but are, in many ways, also the most important. They are the main food not only for fish but for other animals in the ecosystem, including sea birds and dolphins. A school of anchovies this size means there’s a good foundation for a healthy productive ecosystem in Misool.

Read the Full Post


Where Have the Giant Clams Gone?

November 23, 2011

The Raja Ampat team confers aboard the Putiraja

Three months ago, we began a community monitoring project that aims to empower local Papuan communities to monitor their marine resources and link the data they collect to decisions they make about their local fisheries. Five representatives from Raja Ampat’s Kofiau and Southeast Misool MPAs work with Conservancy staff as Community Monitoring Assistants (CMAs), and we are lucky to have four of them — Ali, Wahab, Andi and Naftali — on our expedition!

Sitting down with Ali at lunch today, he told me he remembers snorkeling as a child and seeing five to 10 giant clams every time he visited his local reefs. He told me Misool used to have a lot of giant clams (Tridacna gigas — or, as it’s known locally, kima), which can grow to be over a meter in length. Now, he lamented, shaking his head, he has seen only one giant kima in 10 consecutive dives. But Ali has hope: he is keen to share the data he is collecting with his local community and work with them to find ways to help these important fisheries recover.

Read the Full Post


Coral Galore

November 27, 2011

Acropora coral

Growing up in Fiji instilled me with a profound love of the ocean and, in particular, coral reefs. Corals fascinate me: they are anatomically very simple animals, but they show remarkable complexity in growth form, reproduction and life history.

Did you know that coral taxonomy is based on their fine skeletal structure? And that it takes three large books weighing 8kg (!!!) to provide detailed descriptions and photographs of most known species? One of the challenges of working in the global center of marine biodiversity is that there are more than 550 coral species living in Raja Ampat alone!

Sometimes we have lively debates underwater (via our waterproof slates, of course) about the genus of coral we are observing. In the evenings, we spend up to two hours looking through the coral books to make sure we have our identifications correct and in synchrony with each other. So far, we have found 54 genera of coral in Misool and we are expecting this number to go up as the expedition continues!

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Innovative Approaches to Marine Conservation

November 28, 2011

Sangeeta, Wahab and Ali meet the Misool Ecoresort ranger team

For the last four days, the team has been diving in a 425-square-kilometer no-take zone that was established by Misool Eco Resort and local communities through a marine conservation (or lease) agreement 6 years ago. In this no-take zone, removing fish, sharks, shells, turtles or turtle eggs is prohibited.

The no-take zone is also the only area so far in the marine protected area where we have seen sharks. It’s thrilling to see the reef shark populations rebound, especially here in Indonesia, which has the largest shark fishery in the world. The local team that patrols the no-take area are literally on watch 24 hours a day and do not hesitate to jump in their boat if they see there are boats in the no-take zone.

Marine protected areas, if designed correctly, can help reefs recover and become productive again and that there are innovative ways to do conservation beyond what governments and NGOs have historically done.

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The Heat Is On

November 29, 2011

Aboard the Putiraja

The world’s oceans are getting warmer. But what does that mean for coral reefs?

After all, coral reefs grow in tropical oceans so they’re used to warm water, right? Well, this is true, partly, but when temperatures get hotter than normal and stay that way, corals begin to “bleach.” Climatic events like La Niñas cause ocean temperatures to rise above normal.

To better understand local patterns of ocean temperatures in Misool, Purwanto and Muhajir have been putting out underwater temperature loggers in seven Misool reefs since 2009.

Read the Full Post


Gearing Up

November 30, 2011

A well-prepared diver

Working in remote places is both wonderful and challenging, and it requires a lot of preparation. We have to bring lots of spares of everything we need. Often, people are curious as to what we need in order to work in places like Raja Ampat. To stay underwater for an hour and record all our observations, we require fairly simple — albeit specialized — gear. And some of the items we take along on expeditions like this may surprise you…

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Diving Daram

December 1, 2011

Grey reef shark at Warakareket

We have been diving near Daram Island, in the far southeastern corner of the Misool MPA, for the last two days. This area is so remote that the local communities rarely come to this area to fish.

If only the same were true of illegal fishers. Daram’s remoteness attracts illegal fishing operations here from other parts of Indonesia. Our resource-use monitoring here has recorded shark finning boats as well as fishers targeting vulnerable grouper populations.

Shark finning is one of the cruelest practices around. It involves cutting the fins and tail off a shark before discarding the rest of its body, leaving the animal to die a slow and painful death.

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The Journey Home

December 2, 2011

Sunset at Jef Pele Island in Misool

As Jo and I sit on the top deck of the Putiraja watching Misool’s karst islands disappear behind us, we finally have time reflect on the last 15 days.

So did the expedition live up to our expectations? I think we came away from the expedition with mixed feelings.

By combining scientific information we’re collecting with the communities’ local knowledge of the area and their resources, we can make decisions that help stop any further declines and give the reefs a chance to recover. There is hope!

Read the Full Post


Dr. Joanne Wilson is the Deputy Director for Science for the Conservancy’s Indonesia Marine Program. She has over 15 years experience in marine science on a diverse range of projects including oyster diseases in Tasmania, coral spawning in Queensland and coastal ecology and management in New South Wales, Australia.

Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai is the Bird’s Head Senior Technical Advisor for the Conservancy’s Indonesia Marine Program. She has 15 years of conservation science and marine protected area management experience from Indonesia, Australia, the Pacific and East Africa.

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. Dear Drs Jo & Sangeeta – we look forward to following the progress of your trip to this lovely, environmentally important part of the Indonesian archipelago. Good luck, hopefully the weather conditions will be benign.

    Selamat jalan –

    Robin & Grainne

  2. Hey, enjoy out there.. Hope you guys will still see lots of turtles in reefs out there. Look forwards for the news!!


  3. beautiful part of indonesian archipelago,and beside raja ampat you must try wakatoby, karimun jawa and many other natural beautiful in indonesia.

  4. wish you a very friendly weather & lots of amazing marine creatures to see..!!!


  5. Gosh how wonderful to be out there doing this work. Every best wish for your project’s success. My lads and I will travel ‘in spirit’ through your expedition.
    with love

  6. When you need a land break with great meals, a serene atmosphere and a commitment to conservation, put in at Misool Eco Resort. They’re the folks who brought us these incredible Marine Protected Areas southeast of Misool.

  7. I’m just a jealous guy, hiks hiks.

    Happy diving, have fun and wish you have interesting result.
    Hope to see you in other trips.

    all the best,

  8. We would shout and swim about
    The coral that lies beneath the waves
    (Lies beneath the ocean waves)
    Oh what joy for every girl and boy
    Knowing they’re happy and they’re safe
    (Happy and they’re safe)

    Ringo-the beatles

  9. Keep up the great work for fish and corals, the reefs sound spectacular – not like your poor patch of reef off Nyali which is now badly degraded. Will call when you are back on dry land…shak

  10. As it apparently takes three large books weighing 8 kg to describe all the world’s corals, aren’t we lucky these days to have the benefits of digital technology! What an epoch we live in – all the data on the corals in the seas can be stored up in the (i)clouds!

    Robin O, Darwin

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