Raja Ampat is one of the top dive destinations in the world but even here there are some dive sites that stand out form the rest. The following are the dives I enjoyed the most during my last trip.
This site is a small east to west ridge, which rises to only 10 meters, and is composed of mainly hard corals with a few colorful bommies on the east end. What makes this dive “magical” are the great schools of fish that congregate around the east end during a falling tide. Spanish mackerel hunt in small groups of 4 to 5 large individuals and stream in an out of schools of tuna, jacks, barracuda, and the ubiquitous fusiliers. Around the bommies, angelfish, lionfish and squirrelfish hover over colorful, low growth soft corals. On several dives at Blue Magic we were accompanied by a huge manta that swooped around the eastern bommies, giving smaller fish the opportunity to clean its five-meter wing expanse.
This is one of the most reliable manta ray congregation spot in the Dampier Strait. If divers are allowed to approach too closely, these majestic animals will leave the area and not return for some time. But if the group sits quietly in the designated areas, the large rays will circle back again and again, often somersaulting through the water while they are cleaned by several species of wrasse and even butterflyfish. Besides cleaning, the mantas come to these areas to feed on current-borne plankton, so be prepared for a bit of current and the possibility of reduced visibility. Without current, you're not likely to see mantas.
Some of the mantas are quite large-up to five-meter wingspans-with varying coloration from solid black to mottled white on their undersides. Small groups of yellow pilot fish accompany a few of the larger rays. The pilot fish swim hard to stay just ahead of the large cephalic fins that help the mantas funnel plankton into their mouths.
At Manta Sandy, you wait in a spot defined by a rubble wall on the eastern side of the 20-meter-deep sand channel that runs between parallel rows of hard coral bommies. Mantas swoop through the channel after pausing over their favorite cleaning station. At the end of the dive, guides usually surface on the sandy slope. Pegasus sea moths are commonly sighted here, as are Pontohi seahorses clinging to invertebrate clusters growing on a few of the smaller bommies. Near the cleaning station a small group of rarely seen comet fish have been observed.
The current at Manta Ridge is usually much stronger than at Sandy. You should swim west with the reef on their right, then settle down just below the top of the ridge. A reef hook is often used at the Ridge, especially if you plan to photograph. Mantas can approach this site from any direction-from below the top of the ridge or from the surface-and it's useful to have your buddy look one way while you look the other. Be extremely careful when surfacing, as quite often there is a strong downdraft. The best way to end the dive is to swim north up and over the top of the reef toward the opposite wall. It is shallow enough to finish the safety stop here. When you surface you will be swept back over the reef, but you should be close enough to the surface by the time you reach the downdraft area to avoid being pushed down again by the current.
During the high season these two sites are subject to high diver traffic. If several liveaboards or resort speed boats are in the manta area, they should coordinate with each other and not put divers in the water while another group is down.
There are few other dive resorts in the world that can claim a house reef as fantastic as Sorido's Cape Kri. One of the top dives discovered by Papua Diving's Max Ammer during his initial exploration of the Dampier Strait, Cape Kri has one of the largest concentrations of big fish of any site in northern Raja Ampat. The reef, which extends down along the south side of Kri, is a steep slope covered with smaller bommies, sea fans and sponges. The dive usually takes place from west to east, beginning west of Kri Island's southeast point and continuing east until you are mobbed by fish or reach the dogleg that cuts back north toward Waigeo. Beware of the strong currents with no discernable pattern that swirl around Kri. We have experienced extreme downdrafts and upwellings off the point, so follow an experienced guide who knows how to handle Kri's currents.
A large school of trevally is usually found at shallower depths; barracuda can be seen anywhere; and large concentrations of bannerfish, sweetlips, emperors, and snappers usually hang in the current near the point. It is not unusual to see giant trevally weighing more than 20 kilograms or whitetip and gray reef sharks cruising by Cape Kri.
This dramatic reef is best dived on a falling current. The current can be quite strong here, so it's best to start out from the buoy and descend to the protection of the two pinnacles at the western point. Stay around the pinnacles as long as possible. Often you will see schools of barracuda, jacks, batfish, and snappers. Either face of the ridge is lovely, so swim toward the eastern end on the side with the most workable current. If the current allows, spend some time in the valleys between the pinnacles where schools of sweetlips and batfish congregate.
Dazzled by the near perfection of the extensive hard coral fields he found at this site, Max Ammer named it in honor of his daughter Melissa. Three small islands form a protective semicircle around a shallow, sunlit platform thick with delicate Montipora and blue-tipped Acropora corals. Perhaps nowhere else in Raja Ampat will you observe stony coals as vibrant and full of fish. Again and again, throngs of damselfish and anthias rise in the water column to feed on plankton and then return to the protective mass of entwined branches of coral. There are at least three Tridacna clams located around the platform, all giants that have lived at Melissa's for close to a century. Because the substrate at Melissa's Garden is exceedingly delicate, absolute attention to good buoyancy is required.