Destination: Raja Ampat, the Indonesian archipelago in CI’s Bird’s Head Seascape, a network of marine protected areas in the Pacific Ocean which contain some of the world’s greatest concentration of coral and tropical fish diversity. It’s also the site of this year’s CI Seascapes Workshop, which brings together staffers who work for CI’s Global Marine Division in the Philippines, the Galápagos, Brazil, the West Indian Ocean and Hawaii.
It’s the last stop on a monster two-and-a-half-day journey around the world for many CI staffers, whose trails and travails to reach the location sound like a scene from “Planes Trains & Automobiles”. CI Marine communications coordinator Tim Noviello was delayed for a day in Hong Kong because his passport didn’t have a fully empty page. Galápagos Director Scott Henderson trekked all the way from Ecuador to Amsterdam to then catch two more long flights to Jakarta. I myself started with a 13 hour flight from Washington, DC to Doha, Qatar…followed by a six hour layover…then a nine hour flight to Jakarta Indonesia… and a two hour flight to an island I’d never heard of…before another two hour flight to the Papuan city of Sorong. And all that was before the boat ride.
Piling out of overstuffed transfer cars shortly after sunrise, my colleagues and I traded yawns and sleepy greetings as we lined up to board two speedboats to an island called Misool. (Never heard of it? I hadn’t either) It’s barely a blip on most maps, but in underwater diving and marine conservation circles, it’s a near- mythic destination: the Holy Grail of coral reef biodiversity. There are more than 540 species of hard coral and 1,320 different reef fish in the waters around here, far more than any other tropical reef system on the planet.
Shortly after leaving the West Papuan harbor in Sorong, we discovered that our so-called “speed” boats were more like cranky, old jalopies. Stop, start, cruise, drag, an “I’ll get there when I get there” pace. But if you want to get to know your colleagues better, try sharing six-plus hours together sprawled out on top of a boat under the baking, equatorial sun.
At last, land ho. The jagged prehistoric-looking silhouette of a group of islands appeared on the horizon. But when our captain cut the engine and pulled up to a tiny village, we learned that our local guides had lost their way. Yes, the island we were traveling to is that remote. After another hour of map-consulting, backtracking and circling, the Misool Eco-Resort finally came into view like a desert mirage. “It’s like the Lewis & Clark expedition,” chuckled CI Marine chief Dr. Greg Stone, who has visited and dived nearly everywhere in his amazing career except Raja Ampat, a place he now describes as “unparalleled”.
Finally, our group of marine biologists, species scientists, business leaders, and communications specialists from CI offices in 10 different countries had arrived. Sun-burnt and weary, but eager to brainstorm together, and strategize ways to help the oceans which are increasingly threatened by overfishing, climate change, coastal development and pollution. It was a haul to get here, but finding a corner of Earth that is still so pristine in this day and age makes the trek well worth it. Stay tuned – we’ll have more on Raja Ampat’s amazing marine biodiversity in the days to come.
Kim McCabe is CI’s U.S. Media Manager.