Many people visit Raja Ampat to see the natural beauty of the region. But like many wildness locations, wildlife is abundant both on land and in the sea, and all visitors should be aware that there are particular species of wildlife that could cause harm if they feel threatened, disturbed or have their natural behaviours disrupted.
Avoiding harm from wildlife is actually quite simple – do not harass or disturb, chase or touch any wild animals, on land or in the sea, and the likelihood of injury or harm is extremely low.
It is important that all visitors understand this, particularly in the marine environment where the excitement of seeing something beautiful could override general common sense and thoughts for our safety. In the instance of any wildlife encounter, individuals should remain calm, still and quiet, and observe from a safe distance, without touching or disturbing. Beyond this, visitors should make an effort to be as well informed as they can be about the wildlife present in the region, prior to arrival.
Below is a list of more common species that visitors should be mindful and aware of.
Sharks are amazing animals, unfortunately with a bad reputation. Shark related incidents and fatalities are very rare, and often blown out of proportion in the media.
Raja Ampat is a Shark Sanctuary, which means divers and snorkelers are very likely to have the privilege of seeing these incredible creatures in the wild – an amazing and increasingly rare opportunity.
Typically any shark encountered will be just passing by and completely ignore any divers or snorkelers – they are just not interested in humans. On very rare occasions a shark may show some curious interest by passing by closer than normal, or passing several times to look at you and see what you are or what you are doing. In this instance, do not be alarmed, most likely it will move on of it’s own accord. If you do feel concerned, follow the below guidelines:
- Remain calm and stay with your buddy, keeping your eyes on the shark. Scuba divers form a large and unusual shape in the water, and make alot of bubbles – something no other marine species does. If a shark is observing you, it will just be wondering what you are – a clear sign of intelligence. If you see a shark that stays in an area, just remain alert and observe, and if you are concerned, swim purposefully out of the area, if possible close to the bottom.
- Prey swims away rapidly, you should not. If you see a shark, most likely it is not interested in you anyway and will simply pass you by. However, in this instance, or if you have curious shark who wants to check you out a little, hold your position and keep facing the shark (do not turn your back and swim rapidly away!). These are behaviours that are not characteristic with prey, and if you hold still and face the shark it will realise you are not prey. After the shark passes, swim away in a purposeful but not panicked manner, near the bottom if possible.
- Observe and understand body language. The overwhelming majority of sharks you see in Raja Ampat will be moving calmly as it passes you by. If you start to see different movement and body language, such as arched backs, downward facing fins, rapid movement/changes of direction, this could be a sign they are stressed by you being there, that you have encroached on an area where they are mating or that they are starting to hunt. Stay calm, and swim slowly and purposefully out of the immediate area
- Do not follow sharks. Give sharks the space and respect they deserve. By following a shark they may perceive you as a threat and act in self defence.
- If you are concerned for any reason, stay close to your dive buddy, swim slowly and purposefully out of the immediate area, staying close to the reef if possible.
- ENJOY! In more and more locations around the world, you will not see even one shark, let alone multiple. So take the time enjoy the opportunity to see this amazing species in it’s natural habitat.
Sea snakes are quite common throughout Raja Ampat, and are a beautiful species to observe during a dive or snorkel. Whilst highly venomous, seasnakes are not aggressive and are most likely encountered when they are free swimming to the surface for a breath, or moving between corals in search of food. Human-seasnake accidents occur are most likely to occur in the instance of handling; therefore, use common sense do NOT touch a seasnake, and never block it’s path or cause it to feel trapped or threatened.
Blue Ringed Octopus
This tiny octopus is one of the most dangerous animals in the sea; it carries enough venom to kill 26 adult humans within minutes. Their bites are often tiny and painless, with many victims not realising they have been envenomated until respiratory issues and paralysis has set in. Blue Ringed Octopus are typically found in shallow reefs or tide pools, and are more active at night. They are relatively docile, yet are extremely dangerous to humans if provoked through handling or disturbance. Blue Ringed Octopus will give ample warning that it is agitated and disturbed by flashing it’s 50-60 bright blue rings that cover it’s body, a sure sign that it is time to move away.
There is no anti-venom for Blue Ring Octopus venom.
Crown of Thorns Starfish
A large coral eating starfish covered in thorns, can not only do significant damage to coral reefs (click here for more information), but any human unlucky enough to come into contact with it’s spines. The spines produce a neurotoxin which causes a sharp stinging pain and swelling at the site of the wound (which can last days or weeks), and potentially nausea and vomiting.
The starfish has no mechanism for injecting the toxin, but the spines will perforate the skin of an unwary person, and even cut through neoprene gloves and wetsuits. The spines are also brittle, and may also break off and become embedded in the tissue where they must be removed surgically.
There are approximately 500 known species of coneshells (conesnails), of which, some are venomous enough to kill you. The sting of smaller, less venmous coneshell is no worse than a bee sting. But the sting of a few of the larger species of tropical cone snails can be serious, occasionally even fatal to humans. Of these, the Geography cone is the deadliest, with more than 100 toxins in its small, six-inch body, or the Textile Cone.
When coneshells are threatened, or hunting, they eject a harpoon like proboscis through their mouth, and inject venom into their prey or predator. This venom is deadly to humans. Accidents occur through handling of living creatures under the water, and/or shell collecting; because the live animal can withdraw fully into it’s shell, it is often not possible to tell if the coneshell is alive or not. To avoid injury or harm, do not pick up or touch.
A piece of coral is comprised of hundreds of thousands of tiny coral polyp animals, each with a hard exoskeleton (outer skeleton).The exoskeletons can be colorful and form large and complex structures underwater – the reefs that Raja Ampat is famous for.
Hard corals are extremely hard and sharp, and the slightest graze can open skin, leaving behind a small amount of animal protein (from the polyp), calcareous material or any other pathogen in the water, inside the open wound. A small seemingly harmless cut may quickly develop into a much larger infected wound which requires antibiotics to heal. Some corals contain nematocysts (an organ in some marine animals that consists of a minute capsule containing an ejectable thread that causes a sting), which can produce a more significant injury. An open wound in the tropics becomes infected very quickly, and takes a long time to heal.
For your sake, and the sake of the coral – DON’T TOUCH!
There are salwater crocodiles in certain habitats and locations within Raja Ampat; but the chances of encountering one in the typical diving and snorkelling locations are extremely low. Saltwater crocodiles favour mangroves forests, river estuaries and more brackish wetlands. They are also a territorial species, so it is easiest to assume that in environments such as this, there could be saltwater crocodiles present, and not enter the water.
Most think of Raja Ampat for its reefs and the life upon the reef, the abundant waters also contain marine megafauna, including manta rays (both species), multiple species of marine mammal including whales, dolphins and dugongs. Whilst devoid of poison or sharp teeth, these are very large wild animals, who like all species, have mechanisms for defence against predators or other threats. Do not mistake them for ‘gentle giants’, any human who disturbs these species or disrupts their natural behaviour could very well find themselves receiving – a potentially life threatening – slap from a whale tail, a sudden back roll of a manta (their means of defending themselves from predators).
Whilst dangerous encounters are extremely rare; it is advised to treat these very large animals with full respect and keep your distance. In the same way you would not approach an elephant in the savannah, and not approach marine megafauna too closely.
A spectacular looking fish, Lionfish are a type of Scorpion fish that are frequently sighted in Raja Ampat’s waters. With an imposing fan of long venomous spines, the Lionfish is a popular sighting and favourite amongst photographers. These fish are not aggressive towards people, yet accidental contact with the spines of a lionfish will result in intense pain and swelling around the wound site. Although the worst of the pain is over within hours, some may experience pain or sensations for days, or even weeks. On very rare occasions, if the venom spreads to other parts of the body, people may experiences, headaches, nausea, chills, cramps, or even paralysis and seizure.
A close relative to the lionfish/scorpion fish, Stonefish are amongst the most venomous fish in the world. Found in shallow tropical waters, reef flats and shallow lagoons with rubble or sandy areas and in small pools during low tide, where they are well camouflaged on the substrate.They can survive out of the water for up to 24hours, meaning the could be located in very shallow regions that fringe beaches.
Lying perfectly still, the stonefish is incredibly difficult to see, and human injury tends to occur through accidental touch: stepping on the fish, picking it up as a pretty/unusual stone, or brushing against it whilst in the water. Through it’s dorsal fin spines, stonefish can inject a venom that causes intense pain and swelling at the site of the wound, difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat or heat failure, circulatory issues, nausea, vomiting, seizures, paralysis, delirium of unconsciousness. In some cases, venom can result in death.
Like all species in this list, they are not aggressive towards humans, however, will use their natural defence mechanism if threatened, in this instance through touch.
One look at a moray eel should be enough to tell anyone not to mess with this marine species. With visibly powerful jaws and razor sharp teeth, moray eels do not like to be disturbed and tend to stay in their holes, in crevices or within reefs as much as possible. Accidents occur when people are putting their hands where they are not supposed to (ie: in holes, on reefs), lack of awareness leads to getting too close to a moray eel, or attempting to handfeed a moray eel – an activity that will surely see you lose your fingers!
Raja Ampat is as abundant on land as it is under the water; the dense forest covering the island archipelago is filled with life. Snakes, pythons, monitor lizards, wild boar and spiders are present, however, the likelihood of a dangerous encounter is extremely low, almost non-existent. Typically these animals will stay away, or move away from any human activity. In the instance of an encounter, like all the other wild species listed – do not try to get too close, distrupt or disturb animals natural behavior, and definitely do not touch.
There are a number of ‘stray dogs’ present in or near villages in Raja Ampat. Whilst these dogs are accustomed to the presence of humans, they are not accustomed to being held and patted. May of these dogs are very wary of humans. Do not approach them the way you would approach a ‘pet dog’, and do not feed them by hand.
Whilst humans are not a significant or direct threat to other humans in the water, when irresponsible or careless, they can pose a significant threat marine environment when in or on the sea.
From breaking corals (anchors, boat strike, kicking, trampling), harming marine life (touching, boat strike, illegal fishing) through to plastic and chemical pollution, waste water, runoff and eutrophication – humans can cause significant damage to marine environments, and therefore the other humans that depend on them for food and livelihoods.
Be a Responsible Visitor in Raja Ampat, and do not harm to the environment you have chosen to visit. Refer to “Responsible Tourism”
Additionally, by being a repsonsible diver and responsible dive buddy, most, if not all, scuba and snorkelling incidents can be avoided.