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Location: Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Today was absolutely incredible. We moved over to an island called Kri before breakfast, where half of the group departed to meet their diving guides onshore at Papua Divers. The trip over in our dinghy, Megatron, was made longer due to the sheer amount of reef surrounding the dive resort. Just the view from the surface was enough to get everyone stoked to find out what our dives would have in store for us. Once we arrived at the dock, we were greeted by a few blacktip reef sharks and taken aback by just how incredible the dive resort was and the surrounding reef. Our guides gave us a rundown of what the plan for the day was, and we split up between their two dive boats. Our first dive was at Yembuba Jetty, which, as the name implies, is at the end of Yembuba Village’s Jetty. As we descended next to the jetty, I didn’t know which direction to look. The biodiversity was breathtaking. We made it down to around 80 feet, and the bottom was covered with lettuce coral as far as the eye could see. This has become one of my favorite species to see underwater after the wall of it we saw in Palau at Ulong Channel. Throughout the rest of the dive, we found large groups of Many-Spotted Sweetlips, had a few Blacktip Reef Sharks cruise by, were charged by a few angry Titan Triggerfish, and found at least five different species of Anemonefishes. As we ascended to our safety stop, the Genus Acropora took over the reef, and the colors became brighter and brighter.

After our first dive, we spent our safety stop walking around Sawandarek Village. There were lots of smiley kids all over the beach, and due to my excited reaction to a tiny hermit crab, three little girls began filling my hands with hermit crabs that were getting progressively tinier. They were very enthused by the unspoken competition. As a staff member at Seamester, we don’t actually spend very much time around kids under 17, so I really enjoyed spending some time on the beach with a few joyous young kids. One woman even-handed Margo her baby to pose for a photo which was probably surprising for both Margo and the baby. Once we made our way back to the boat, we got in the water for our second dive at the end of the Sawandarek Village. This site was full of massive green sea turtles. It was the first time I saw sea turtles comparative in size to the sea turtles you find in south Florida. Again, the coral cover and biodiversity were awe-inspiring, the schools of fish were plentiful, and we found many different species of colorful nudibranchs and flatworms. The other dive group (who went diving at Sawandarek for their first dive) had even found a Pygmy Seahorse less than 8mm in length and a leafy scorpionfish here.

After dive number two, both dive groups were reunited at a beach that Amanda C. claimed: “made her feel like she was inside of a postcard.” There were beautifully crafted huts lining the beach, an orchestra of bird sounds, and crystal clear water. We ate our lunches here, went swimming, played with more hermit crabs, and then eventually made our way to our third dive site. I can sum up the third dive with two species names, OCEANIC MANTA RAY and SPOTTED WOBBEGONG. The Oceanic Manta Ray was an incredible sight to see. Over the past year, we have been fortunate enough to see Reef Mantas in a lot of the places we have visited, but we have only heard about the possibility of seeing the massive oceanic mantas. This beauty cruised by pretty quickly, but Margo managed to get a video of it that we later confirmed as being an oceanic manta. I feel so fortunate to have gotten to go diving in Raja Ampat, and I really hope to visit there again someday.

We rounded off the day with dinner and a squeeze question about our favorite birds and fun facts about birds. This was all in anticipation of going on a hike tomorrow to hopefully find Red Birds of Paradise. The first group will be waking up at 0400 for a hike into the jungle to hopefully catch the birds at sunrise! Cross your fingers!