This October, veteran guide Lee Goldman will take a small crew of WWF’s snorkeling enthusiasts to Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Archipelago, where they’ll glide over some of the planet’s most remarkable shallow-reef habitats. The region has more than 500 species of coral and 1,500 different types of fish.
We caught up with Lee to get his take on this corner of the world and what makes it so special.
WWF Travel: For WWF’s avid snorkelers, what does Raja Ampat have to offer them that maybe they haven’t seen before?
Lee Goldman: Some of the richest reefs in the world. There are few places left on Earth that can offer pristine habitats and unmitigated marine biodiversity like Raja Ampat can.
WWF: What seems to surprise snorkelers the most about Raja Ampat?
LG: Just how pristine, how lush, how colorful and how diverse the region really is. They hear or read about it, but it doesn’t really register until they are snorkeling above the reefs. I’ve had avid worldwide-traveling snorkelers come back from a session and tell me they never thought what they saw was still possible on our planet.
WWF: What are some of the more common fish that snorkelers will observe here?
LG: One thing I can pretty much guarantee we will see, that not many other places can offer these days, is bumphead parrotfish. And not just one or two but large schools of more than 20 large adults. It’s still such a treat to see them because they command so much attention. Also, lots of colorful nudibranchs and, though I can’t guarantee it every time, we often see the wobbiegong shark, a type of carpet shark found only in this region.
WWF: You spend these trips helping travelers have an incredible experience, but what’s your favorite memory of Raja Ampat?
LG: The first time I snorkeled on some of the reefs. Coming from Palau and the Philippines, where some of the nicest reefs also exist, I still could not believe the extent of pristine reefs in Raja Ampat. The first time I put my face in the water, I just kept thinking, “This is what a healthy, untouched, ultra-diverse coral reef should look like.” I knew I’d be back.
The first time I put my face in the water, I just kept thinking, “This is what a healthy, untouched, ultra-diverse coral reef should look like.” I knew I’d be back. – Lee Goldman
WWF: Do you have concerns about the coral reef staying that healthy? As you know, coral bleaching events are ever-increasing.
LG: Sure, any type of widespread, potentially catastrophic event is cause for concern, but the area is incredibly diverse and that usually means there is a fairly high level of resilience. Yes, some or perhaps even many colonies will perish, but the system as a whole will survive. Corals live and die all the time and it is the death of millions of corals—over millions of years—that gives rise to the survival of millions more. In this regard, as long as the area is not affected by too many negative influences without any time for reef recovery, I am confident it will continue to be the world’s representative for healthy coral reefs.
WWF: Are there any challenges that potential guests should be aware of on this trip?
LG: It is very remote, so getting to Raja Ampat is not easy. It requires a bit of stamina for the long flights and travel time and for negotiating the chaos of the smaller airports and airlines. Fortunately, it represents only a fraction of time during the entire program.
WWF: You’ve led WWF snorkeling tours all over the planet. What’s your favorite part of these experiences?
LG: The people. WWF attracts such a great group of travelers and adventurers. I love talking to them and hearing about their experiences. I also love that they are eager to learn about the area they are visiting. It’s not just a tick off the list; it’s truly an adventure for them.
By Marsea Nelson, guest blogger for WWF Travel