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June 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 29, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Damai I, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

luxury at a big, big price

from the June, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver:

While diving Kri Island's reef, I was in the midst of a fish "rush hour." Actually, with schools of fish going in every direction, it was more like underwater gridlock. A yellowfin tuna made a left turn, a bumphead Napoleon wrasse appeared to be stalled. Crisscrossing in the mild current were multiple species of fusilier and schools of diagonal-banded and many-spotted sweetlips. Parrotfish 7 spit exhaustive clouds of chewed reef. Oversize barracuda appeared trapped in a roundabout. A black-tip shark met up with buddies for twilight reef patrol. Angelfish and red snapper went in every direction, while spadefish coasted in neutral. This was just an ordinary dive in Raja Ampat. Its 50,000 square kilometers is considered the heart of the world's marine biodiversity. Scientists have identified more than 1,300 species of reef fish here, swimming among more than 50 percent of the world's soft corals and 70 percent of the world's hard corals. It is breathtaking.

Five years ago at this location near Kri, I spotted two blue-ring octopuses during a night dive. This time, the unusual critters included one of the recently- identified walking, or bamboo, sharks, an unidentified grey nudibranch, and the colorful finned tiny oscillated or Scooter dragonet. Home for these critters, especially around Aljui Bay's Channel Island, included a glorious rainbow-like reef of soft and hard corals.

"A crew of 18 cared for 12 divers,
and they did everything humanely possible."

The route on the luxurious 130-foot, sixcabin Damai I took us from West Papua's city of Sorong to the port of Tual on Kri Island. Captain Iskandar motored the handsome teak and mahogany phinisi south toward West Papua around Bird's Head Peninsula. We usually traveled from one site to the other during the night, while moving in the day only if weather conditions dictated. The Damai I is the real deal when it comes to "concierge" diving. A crew of 18 cared for 12 divers, and they did everything humanly possible. They helped us suit up and carried our gear. They washed and either hung my gear to dry or folded my skinsuit or 3-mil wetsuit, my preference for the average 83-degree water temperature. Puto, in charge of the dining salon, passed glasses of water on a tray before and after each dive. My only responsibility was carrying my mask to the tender and determining which camera lens to use....


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