Our Third Visit Snorkeling Raja Ampat

By Pamela S

Bill and I just returned from our third visit snorkeling Raja Ampat, and the secret is out. I wrote this near the end of our trip.

In 2015 when we first visited the sublime paradise that is R4, we were usually the only guests in the homestays. On our second visit three years later, we didn’t notice much change. Still just sleepy villages and maybe a few new homestays sprouting up here and there. Read about our previous experiences in my trip report.

Crinoids (feather stars) on a soft coral reef we saw while snorkeling Raja Ampat

A few years forward to our visit in 2023, and much has changed, even though the essence of the place- thankfully- is still intact.

What Snorkeling Raja Ampat Is Like

The reefs, which we were massively worried about due to lack of resources during COVID, are mostly as we remembered- magnificent. The fish are still amazing. We did spot a bit of bleaching and one of our favorite spots- the Kabui Passage with its large, colorful Gorgonian soft corals- is mostly dead.

Sea fans and soft corals in Kabui Passage Raja Ampat
These were some of the last soft corals left in Kabui Passage

Still, no sign of major reef destruction at the twelve different locales we snorkeled (except Kabui Passage)- some old favorites and some new gems.

What Has Changed

Now, there are many, many more liveaboards on the horizon, dive boats at the reef walls, and visitors in the homestays. I feel a little bit proprietary when I hear the other homestay guests- Germans, French, Swedes- rave about their visits to Friwen Wall or Cape Kri or Arborek. “Yes”, I want to interject, “I snorkeled all of those- years ago… aren’t they wonderful?” I wobble between celebrating their joy at finally seeing Raja, and fear that it will be ruined by so many more people.

Damselfish and hard coral Raja Ampat

The Papuans seem to be matching the increase in visitors with a building frenzy that is apparent everywhere you look. One can hardly blame them. We bring dollars and euros and “progress”.

It is a bit disconcerting to see the locals with their heads buried in their smart phones, just like us. But my desire for things to be as they were in 2015 when we first visited isn’t really realistic.

Feeding leather corals in Raja Ampat

Things change.

Technology, while lessening the exotic-ness of a far flung locale, does make it easier to navigate and do business- for them, and for us. Worry is erased when you can confirm arrangements via WhatsApp with your hosts… before arrival. No need to carry millions in Rupiah when you can use Wise to pay for your excursions. The Papuans can enjoy music videos- as they were at one homestay- same as us. Or social media. Or news. We all deserve access to the bounty of the internet.

Still, it makes me a little sad.

Raja Ampat hard coral reef

As I lay here enjoying the immense hospitality of my current homestay (Warimpurem on Waisai) I’m thinking about the children I saw earlier in their small boat floating by as I snorkeled their reefs. Some things- hopefully most things- about this magic place, will always remain the same.

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