Biodiversity in Paradise: A Natural History of Raja Ampat by Federico Prado
Administrator’s Notes: While recently in Bali I had a wonderful conversation with Federico Prado, author of the new book, Biodiversity in Paradise: A Natural History of Raja Ampat. This book is an exciting and much needed addition to the Bird’s Head’s lexicon, especially Raja Ampat’s. The book is a labor of love by a passionate individual that provides the reader with an amazing amount of insight into what makes the area so special. For anyone who is truly interested in knowing more about the region, it is a “must read”! This book is the best resource on the region’s natural history you will likely ever encounter! And although the book contains over 200 engaging images it is not a photographic book.
Here’s a few things I learned about Federico during our conversation:
He is an independent research scientist with expertise in ecology, evolution and conservation biology. Between 2012 and 2014, he was the Biodiversity Adviser at the USAID Mission in Mozambique. Prior to this role, he was a Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the AAAS for two years, with assignments at the National Science Foundation and USAID.
His doctoral research at the University of Washington in Seattle focused on the development of mathematical models and agent-based simulations to explore the role of spatial structure on ecological and evolutionary dynamics.
Federico is passionate about science, natural history, the maintenance of biodiversity, tropical biology, and coral reef ecology. His major hobbies include birdwatching, scuba diving, running, hiking, safaris, sailing, beer and wine tasting, latin dancing, and world traveling, having visited over 70 countries. He spends most of his time between Bali, Indonesia, and Cali, Colombia.
Then I asked, “What possessed you to spend years researching and writing this book at your own expense?” In his words:
“While traveling through Southeast Asia in 1993, I read Alfred Wallace’s ‘The Malay Archipelago’ and was captivated by the geology, butterflies, and birds of paradise that he described during his only visit to Raja Ampat in 1860. A few years later I learned that scuba diving around New Guinea was among the best on the planet. As a passionate birdwatcher and scuba diver, I became obsessed with visiting this remote part of Indonesia. As time passed, I found many stunning aerial views and underwater photographs from the region, and watched videos of two of the most beautiful birds in the world found only there. Then I came across two reports sponsored by Conservation International asserting that the Four Kings exhibit some of the highest marine diversity on Earth in stony corals, mollusks, and reef fishes. In 2002 I attempted to visit the archipelago, but unfortunately, due to time and financial constraints I was unable to reach it. Finally, in 2014 and later in 2016 my dream of visiting Raja Ampat came true. I was blown-away as the place exceeded all my expectations. On Waigeo Island, I watched Wilson’s and Red Bird of Paradise males perform their charming courtship dances. Along with these two gorgeous endemic birds, I saw many other colorful species of pigeons, parrots, kingfishers, honeyeaters, and the fascinating Blyth’s Hornbill. One lazy afternoon after lunch I observed for a long while close to 100 dolphins swim along the shore, playing and fishing. Once I started scuba diving around Waigeo and Kri Islands, I realized that I had never seen so much abundance, diversity, beauty, and so many colors under the calm turquoise waters. On a boat ride around Gam Island, I witnessed the loveliest and most peaceful coves I had ever seen; snorkeling in these waters I saw large seahorses and young colorful fish among the aerial roots of mangrove trees. Southeast of Misool I swam in a calm marine lake full of stingless jellyfish, saw a myriad of soft and hard corals, witnessed some lovely and apparently old (5000-ish years) rock paintings on the limestone walls of another island, and took photos of a coral snake rolled under the paintings. From a high point on a different islet, I witnessed a gorgeous landscape: an aquamarine ocean dotted by dozens of limestone islands, islets, cays and shoals, many of them fully covered by lush green vegetation. The Four Kings offered so many magnificent sights and exciting moments that visiting the islands changed my life.
Raja Ampat is not only a hotspot of marine diversity and island endemics, it is also a vital source of food and other natural resources for local communities, and it has become a highly sought-after destination for professional divers and birdwatchers. With so much beauty in such a small area, I wished for a guidebook that would introduce me to the plants, animals, and ecosystems of the archipelago, similar to ‘A Neotropical Companion,’ an engaging book that does the same for the New World Tropics. However, that book did not exist; thus was born the idea for this manuscript. Here I attempt to provide a general introduction to the Natural History of this fantastic archipelago, acknowledging that the book is not complete, exhaustive, or up to date by the time it is published. It is an essay written for scuba divers, birdwatchers, explorers and adventurers, undergraduate students, conservation biology practitioners, marine protected area and nature reserve managers, and the general public, with a solid scientific foundation. It is my hope that this work will educate and entertain readers, and inspire them to visit, explore, study, and understand this most beautiful corner of the planet. Ultimately, this book is intended to further enhance ongoing research and conservation efforts in the Four Kings”.
Federico has kindly shared a few spreadsheets with us.
While a print run is still in the works, the book is now available for streaming. Get your copy here!