Marine reserves make up a tiny proportion of the world’s oceans but are vital to securing their future health. Risa Merl explores the best of these safeguarded wonderlands to discover the beauties they foster
Divers flock to the 17,500 islands of Indonesia for marine life ranging from the petite – mini seahorses and vibrant anemone – to vast corals, some the size of a small car. “More than 75 per cent of the world’s coral species can be found in Raja Ampat – that’s 10 times more than the Caribbean,” says Arif Setyawan, known as Wawan, one of the dive instructors on Indonesia-based superyacht Lamima. “There is every type of diving here – big pelagic fish, muck, drift, walls, wrecks – even the most experienced diver will be amazed.”
But it is the graceful manta ray that takes centre stage after a 2014 campaign by Conservation International and WildAid secured full protection for the fish throughout the nation, making Indonesia the largest manta ray sanctuary in the world.
Top dive sites: In the Raja Ampat islands, the dive site of Manta Sandy in Dampier Strait is an easy 18 metre descent that allows up close and personal manta ray viewing. Nestle into the sandy bottom and watch as they dance overhead while they are cleaned by little fish. Magic Mountain in Misool, meanwhile, mixes manta viewings with sharks, schooling fish and corals, in a range from five to 18 metres deep.
How to visit: Only Indonesian-flagged yachts are allowed to charter in the country. Either find a yacht with Indonesian dive instructors on board, like 65.2m Lamina, or hire in local guides.
When to visit: Visibility is excellent all year round and the waters are constantly warm. Raja Ampat is best from October to April, the driest time of year.