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The Good, the Bad & the Very UGLY by Mark Strickland

The Good, the Bad & the Very UGLY

by Mark Strickland

The Good

Schooling Ruddy Fusiliers, Pterocaesio pisang, swarm above a coral bomme adorned with leather coral and Dendronepthya soft coral. Dampier Strait, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia

I recently returned from leading a 10-day live-aboard voyage to one of my favorite dive destinations – Raja Ampat. As on previous trips, we were very impressed with the spectacular scenery above and below the surface, as well as the abundance of marine life. From tiny pygmy seahorses and nudibranchs to massive mantas, we saw an amazing variety of creatures, and marveled at the overall health and beauty of the reefs. Please enjoy the images.

Schooling Longfin Bannerfish, Magic Mountain, Misool, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia


A rarely seen combination, Soft Corals, Dendronepthya sp., growing on mangrove roots in clear water. Nampele, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia


Hawksbill Turtle, Citrus Ridge, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia


A Magenta Dottyback, Pseudochromis porphyreus, with an unwelcome hitchiker, a parasitic isopod. Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, Indian Ocean

The Bad

The incredible view from the Penemu Island viewpoint. At the landing below the viewpoint is where the natives are illegally selling coconut crabs


Highly threatened throughout their range, these Coconut Crabs, Birgus latro, are being sold to tourists for food. Penemu, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia


There was one aspect, however, that we found very disturbing. While going ashore at Penemu for a hike up to the scenic overlook, we found a handful of locals at the base of the stairs selling bags full of live coconut crabs, which are highly endangered. I was under the impression that all of Raja Ampat was a marine protected area, but later learned that this is not the case; apparently Penemu is not part of the sanctuary. As such, I suppose the animals there don’t enjoy any official protection, but that is a real shame, especially for endangered species like coconut crabs. You would also hope that visiting divers, who are generally quite sensitive to environmental issues, would not support such an enterprise. There are, however, probably enough who either aren’t aware of the scarcity of these animals, or sadly, just don’t care!  This kind of person encourages the venders to keep catching and selling them.

Hopefully regulations can be adopted and implemented in time to save these fascinating animals, whose numbers continue to plummet throughout their range. In the meantime, however, it is up to us divers and others who visit this amazing region to do what we can. It shouldn’t be that difficult, really—simply by refusing to purchase these crabs, along with educating others who might be tempted to, we can make a real difference in their survival. So don’t keep your opinions to yourself… by speaking up, you can actually help to save this important species, and further protect the unique ecosystem that is Raja Ampat. I’ve included an image of the crabs that we being sold.

Administrators note: I’m including another image so you can see how beautiful they really are.

The beautiful but threatened coconut crab. This is what is NOT for dinner!

The Very UGLY

When Mark submitted the above text and images, he included two other very disturbing, heart breaking images.  He wasn’t sure we would want to publish them, so he didn’t mention them in his text. After speaking with him and consulting our “bosses” we have decided that spreading the news of this unbelievable occurrence is important, very important!  

Mark asked me to add a few words to his original text.  

While in the Dampier Straits Mark dived Cape Kri, one of Raja’s signature sites.  He was leisurely swimming along a hundred meters or so west of Kri point when he encountered this coral bommie in about 5 meters of water.  He couldn’t believe his eyes!  Neither will you!  Why would someone do this?  Who gives them that right?  Is a selfie so important that you would deface and damage a living creature? You might say, “perhaps this person was not informed”? There are guidelines in place that every dive operator is supposed to show every guest.  We all know this behavior is intolerable.  Anyone with the resources to get to Raja is bound to know this is unacceptable behavior; that or they’ve been living under a rock!  If you know who did this or which operator allowed it to happen please let us know and we will inform the authorities.  This must stop!  What we can’t believe is that it happened.  How selfish, how stupid, how very UGLY! 

One side of an otherwise pristine Brain Coral, damaged by someone scratching graffiti into its delicate tissues. Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia


The other side of an otherwise pristine Brain Coral, damaged by someone scratching graffiti into its delicate tissues. Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, indian Ocean

From the Administrator:

Note: These photos were sent to RAEW (Raja Ampat Environmental Watch), your crowd-sourcing solution to help protect your Raja Ampat’s beautiful and fragile marine and terrestrial environments.  RAEW notifies the appropriate governmental agency when abuse is reported.  We are happy to say this report went viral in Indonesia.  The Head of Tourism in Jakarta was incensed and contacted the Raja Ampat Tourism board and told them to notify all dive operators and put an end to this shameful, destructive practice.  Whoever did this is in for a world of trouble when they are discovered.  RAEW works.  Use it.

Mark Strickland is an accomplished underwater photographer and conservationist, whose editorial credits include several books, periodicals like BBC WildlifeGeoNational Geographic WorldNature’s BestNatural HistoryOutside and major dive magazines. His images have also been featured at the Smithsonian Institute, United Nations Visitor Center, and galleries including G2 in Venice, CA. Mark serves in various roles at Bluewater Photo, and leads international trips each year. For a sampling of Mark’s work, visit

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