Raja Ampat is undoubtedly one of natures wonders:
Wherever you look, life explodes into a miraculous world of form and colour.
From the curiosities roaming the pristine rainforests to the countless creatures inhabiting the vivid reefs, the archipelago truly bursts with life.
Although the archipelago is best known for it’s fabled underwater world, Raja Ampat’s forests offer an impressive variety of life themselves.
Being a paradise for birds, the islands are almost sacral to ornithologists, who come to observe myth-like creatures like the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise. But the pristine tropical rainforests have even more to offer: from marsupials, gliding between the tree-tops, to mushrooms glowing in the dark - the jungle appears to be out of a fairy tale rather than real.
Keep reading to learn more about the archipelago's fascinating creatures.
With the exception of bats, all the endemic species in Raja Ampat are marsupials. Boars, dogs, rats and some other mammals, nowadays common in the archipelago, were brought by Austronesians as recently as 4.000 years ago.
Nevertheless, there are still quite a few interesting creatures to be found in Raja Ampat: different species of cuscus (including one endemic), bandicoot and possum. A real curiosity is the Western long-beaked Echidna, one of just a handful egg-laying mammals in existence.
More than 350 bird species can be observed in Raja Ampat, of which six are endemic to the archipelago. Many of the birds inhabiting the islands are rare sights outside of Raja Ampat and the area has become famous among ornithologists all over the world.
The colourful Wilson’s and the enchanting Red Bird of Paradise are just two examples of the wonderful feathered life forms to be found on the tropical islands. Further inland delightful Crowned Pigeons and flightless Cassowaries roam the dense jungle.
Raja Ampat is inhabited by numerous reptile species, most commonly found on the bigger islands where the dense jungle offers an ideal habitat for them. Due to the tropical climate and relatively high temperatures all year long, they strive in this environment.
Monitor lizards, such as the endemic Golden Speckled Tree Monitor, and various pythons are numerous especially on Waigeo, but more common species of monitors and other reptiles can be found all over the archipelago.
The amphibious creatures of Raja Ampat have received far less attention from the scientific community than other animal families. However, there is a strong presence of frogs on the larger islands and the dense jungles still hold one or the other secret.
In 2015 a study carried out by Steve Richards and his team identified two new species of narrow-mouthed frogs by tracking their night calls. One of them turned out to be a hermaphrodite, while the other one represents the first record of the genus Cophixalus in Misool.
The more than 1.000 islands are inhabited by a huge variety of insects, many of which are spectacular in their appearance. From vibrant butterflies with the wingspan of small birds to iridescent beetles, the jungle is full of magnificent creatures.
While insects are the most numerous animals, spiders and even the rare coconut crab are also present on the archipelago. On remote islands the coconut crab can grow up to an impressive size, weighing up to 3 kg.
Fungi & Lichen
Lichen and fungi are present all over Raja Ampat, but their preferred habitats are the dense and wet rainforests of the larger islands like Waigeo and Batanta. While these might not be the most impressive organisms, they play a vital role in the ecosystem.
A species worth mentioning is Mycena Chlorophos. By day this inconspicuous mushroom is easily overlooked, by night however, they transform the jungle into a magical place. Being bioluminescent, they emit a pale green light - like out of a fairy tale.
Raja Ampat’s tropical rainforests are made up of an immense variety of plants, many of which can be found nowhere else on the world. The jungles vary from very wet to moderately dry, depending on the island.
Probably the most fascinating in terms of appearance are the vivid orchids, of which more than 200 distinctive species are present on the islands. Another interesting group is formed by the carnivorous pitcher plants, with at least three endemic species in Raja Ampat.
Isolation was the driving factor behind the evolution of Raja Ampat’s creatures.
The absence of large predators allowed numerous life forms to develop characteristics unseen in other parts of the world. However, some of the archipelago’s inhabitants are specifically adapted to their unique environment and therefore very sensible to changes in it.
Raja Ampat's lush forests offer a unique experience for anyone who dares to venture into them.
Exploring Raja Ampat's jungles will definitely take you away from the beaten path. The dense rainforests burst with life and trekking through the tropical vegetation is often rewarded with unique sights.
Raja Ampat’s unique marine ecosystem is home to the world’s highest biodiversity.
The diversity in this rich archipelago is considerably greater than any other area sampled in the coral triangle composed of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and East Timor.
Keep reading to learn more about this unparalleled ecosystem.
A staggering 1.400 species of reef fish have been identified in Raja Ampat, with estimates going as high as 1.700 different kinds. At least 23 of the fish found here are endemic, including species of walking shark, flasher wrasse, damselfish, coral goby, cardinal fish and dottyback.
Raja Ampat is not only an epicenter of diversity, but fish appear in vast numbers. Nutrient-rich currents lead enormous shoals of fish to congregate in the relatively shallow waters. Megafauna, including sharks and mantas also has a strong presence in the tropical waters.
17 species of marine mammals are present in Raja Ampat. Some stay throughout the year, while others stop on their migratory routes to fill up on the riches. Others still use the well protected waters as a nursery and to give birth.
Besides the impressive blue, sperm and orca, a total of 16 different species of whale and dolphin are regularly observed in Raja Ampat. Another rare creature - the dugong - can often be found feasting on seagrass beds, especially around Batanta.
More than 600 different kinds of coral form the base structure of Raja Ampat’s lush reefs - that’s 75% of all the known coral species in the world. It is estimated that at least 20 of them are new to science, which is currently being surveyed.
The archipelago’s coral abundance at relatively high sea temperature suggests - and is backed by recent studies - that its reefs may be relatively resilient to coral bleaching and coral disease, which now threaten the survival of other coral ecosystems around the world.
At least 4 of the worldwide 7 species of sea turtles are present in Raja Ampat. While Leatherback and Olive Ridley turtles are rare sights, Hawksbill and Green turtles are very numerous. They play a vital role in the ecosystem, feeding on sponges and algae respectively.
Various sea snakes, like the banded sea krait, patrol the reefs and hunt for small fish. Another, more impressive inhabitant of Raja Ampat is the saltwater crocodile. These prehistoric creatures can grow more than 6 meters long and weigh over a ton.
Molluscs & Crustacea
Raja Ampat is home to 700 different kinds of mollusks. They can be found occupying every type of environment, from the mangrove swamps to the most vibrant reefs. Due to their variety they form a very interesting group of animals.
Stunning nudibranchs, as well as fascinating shrimp and crabs appear in all shapes and colours. 47 species of mantis shrimp, 7 kinds of giant clam and various species of Cephalopoda, including the blue-ringed octopus, can all be encountered in Raja Ampat.
The high marine diversity in Raja Ampat is strongly influenced by its position.
Forming a relatively narrow channel between the Pacific and the Indian ocean, unimaginable masses of water are forced through the area with every change of tides. This not only is a steady supply of nutrient rich water, but also distributes fish and coral larvae between the two oceans.