The worldwide importance and influence of Raja Ampat’s reefs

Go back a few years… and no-one but a few scientists had heard of the place; a remote and unexplored location, abundant with an extraordinary amount of marine biodiversity.  Fast forward to now and Raja Ampat is the name on top of every divers “must see” list.  For most, a visit to the area involves diving, snorkeling and taking in the aesthetics and natural beauty of this most pristine wilderness.

However, Raja Ampat is far more than a stunning marine playground; it is of profound ecological significance for marine health the world over.

Raja Ampat is the crown jewel of the Coral Triangle and the epicenter of global marine biodiversity. Stretching over 40,000km sq of islands and lagoons, Raja Ampat holds the prestigious title as the most marine bio-diverse place on earth.  No matter where you immerse yourself in Raja Ampat’s waters, the contrast between here and elsewhere is striking; and a stark reminder (in varying degrees) of what once existed in similar tropical reef regions of the world.

At its most recent count in 2011 the region of Raja Ampat was recognized to contain:
– 1427 reef fishes
– over 600 coral species (75% of the world’s coral species can be found here)
– 6 out of 7 species of sea turtle are found in the Birdshead Seascape, to which Raja Ampat belongs, and the Pacific’s most important Leatherback Turtle nesting site
– 16 (known species) of marine mammal including various whales and dolphins, and also dugongs

But beyond all of this, Raja Ampat is of significant ecological importance as in indicator and influencer of marine health across the world. Coral reefs here, play a significant role in not only our understanding of tropical reef ecology, but the health of other reef systems worldwide.

To date, our knowledge indicates that coral around Raja Ampat may be naturally more resilient to fluctuations in water temperatures providing scientist the opportunity to explore this rare phenomenon. In a time where coral reefs the world over are suffering from natural and human induced environmental change, it is essential that we come to understand the recovery capacity of healthy reefs in pristine areas.

Raja Ampat also serves as an important corridor between the mighty Pacific and Indian Oceans. From here, strong and deep ocean currents sweep coral larvae into these vast and influential oceans, subsequently replenishing distant reef ecosystems across the globe.  What happens to coral in Raja Ampat, impacts coral elsewhere – and it is essential that we recognise this.

The current knowledge and understanding we have of Raja Ampat and its unique ecology is but a small percentage of all that can be discovered with respect to tropical reef ecology, and the extended influence of these reef systems across the world.

There are so few places like Raja Ampat left on the planet; with such a vast expanse of abundance and marine biodiversity.   With ever increasing tourism and development in the region, and human induced climate change, it is essential that we implement careful planning and management systems now, in order to ensure that Raja Ampat remains a rich and healthy ecosystem.  To protect Raja Ampat, is to support and protect the wider ecological functions throughout the vast Indo-Pacific region, and everything connected to it (including our own day to day living)

At Raja Ampat SEA Centre it is our goal to tackle these issues head on.  Through applied science, education and awareness we hope to mobilize and enable others to join us in this quest to protect Raja Ampat from current and future threats, in order to conserve this most beautiful and precious ecosystem.

Text: Lynn Lawrance