Sebastian Troёng is attending CI’s seascapes workshop in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Read more reports on the meeting from our marine team.
The shadows from the coconut palm trees were growing larger as we wrapped up the last session of the day. Since the morning we had been engaged in dynamic discussions about fisheries, aquaculture and communications. The Seascapes team members from around the world had shared their experiences and discussed ideas for how we can make marine conservation more successful on our blue planet.
Now, it was time to observe firsthand the reason for our passionate dedication to marine conservation – the stunning reefs and ecosystems near Misool in Bird’s Head Seascape. I quickly threw on some dive gear, and after a short briefing six of us headed out to nearby Camel Rock in a small boat. We all rolled over the edge of the boat and descended through the dimly-lit late afternoon waters.
The reef around Camel Rock stretched out in two directions. We began kicking our fins and swam over the reef top and down one of its sides. A juvenile hawksbill turtle [Eretmochelys imbricata] munching on sponges peered at us, but we kept our distance and the little turtle went about its business, stretching its head in between the coral heads to bite off pieces of its favorite food.
The light kept fading, and soon we had to switch on the dive torches. We kicked forcefully against the current and swam along the reef edge with colorful soft corals and reef fish on one side and the dark deep water on the other. A whitetip reef shark [Triaenodon obesus] hid underneath a large coral colony and squeezed further in as we shone our lights into the crevices to get a better look.
We came to the front of the reef and ascended a couple of meters. This is when my favorite part of the dive began. We drifted with the current over the reef top in close to total darkness with the only light being the beams of our dive torches. The reef top was rabbitfish [Chimaera monstrosa] galore, with fish scuttling between the coral heads and abundant soft corals.
Suddenly one of the dive lights began flashing in the distance. The dive master Sangay was waving his flashlight to indicate he had found something exciting. I rapidly swam in the direction of the light and once again came across the little hawksbill turtle hovering above a large coral colony. Soon, however, I realized Sangay was excited about something completely different. In between a couple of coral heads sat a small odd-looking shark with large pectoral fin. It was my first encounter with the most famous of Bird’s Head Seascapes underwater ambassadors: the walking shark! The little epaulette shark [Hemiscyllium sp.] was shy and pushed its way under a coral to get out of the inquisitive lights of this thrilled group of marine conservationists.
Shortly thereafter, our dive time reached a full hour and we reluctantly ascended to the surface. As the dive boat approached to pick us up, through animated conversation, we agreed the dive was the highlight of our visit to Bird’s Head Seascape.
Sebastian Troёng is CI’s Vice President for Marine Conservation.