I have recently returned from two trips aboard the Paradise Dancer in the Raja Ampat region of Indonesia where I have been in search of the recently described and extremely elusive Satomi’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus satomiae). The Paradise Dancer, or Dewi Nusantara as it is also known, is a member of the Peter Hughes fleet and the crown jewel of Indonesian liveaboard diving. She measures an impressive 57 metres so there is plenty of space for the eighteen guests to spread out and relax between mind-blowing dives.

Raja Ampat is famed for its extraordinarily high biodiversity. The further you go in any direction from these islands the fewer the number of coral reef species there are! There are many endemic reef fish (those which are found nowhere else). Raja Ampat is a great place for divers that have visited other areas within Indonesia. Each day of the 11-day itinerary has something new to offer and ranged from walls packed with soft corals and gorgonians in Farundi, to Manta cleaning stations in Arborek and mangrove fringed reefs in Yanggelo. This is very remote part of the world and the low human population is evident on the pristine reefs. It appears that you could have a spectacular dive almost anywhere you decide to jump in. It was also great to see several huge napoleon wrasse during our trip. They tend to be rare in Indonesia due to the huge bounty placed on their head by the live food fish trade, particularly in Hong Kong.

As has been the topic for many of my FiNS blogs I am studying the ecology of pygmy seahorses for my doctoral thesis. Raja Ampat, along with Wakatobi, has some of the highest densities and diversity of these tiny fish that I have seen. During our expedition through the four kings (the translation of Raja Ampat) I saw four species including Satomi’s pygmy seahorse which had until now eluded me! I was also ecstatic to see the red and white colour form of Denise’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus denise) that is restricted to this area. Satomi’s pygmy appears to be nocturnal and is highly active in the early evening after the sun has set. As a result great care should be taken when photographing them. Bright lights stress them considerably so lights should be mostly covered whilst viewing the animal. We used a red filter to reduce the intensity of the light, with good results.

All in all there is something for everyone in Raja Ampat. I have been back to reality for a couple of weeks now and I am still dreaming of the stunning dives and creatures we saw. I have posted more images on my website. The original version of this blog was written for FiNS online.