while researching my recent book Muck Diving we discovered that there were a few good muck-sites in Raja Ampat but that they were rarely visited. Andi was keen, because he and the other dive-guides had done little muck-diving in the area.
And fortunately the other divers, mostly keen photographers, were also happy with this little detour.
Andi revised the itinerary so that we could spend the next day at Batanta on our way north to the Dampier Strait.
Arriving off the southern side of Batanta, it was pretty evident from the black-sand beaches that this area was perfect for muck-diving.
The first dive at Algae Patch 2 was just like being in Lembeh, a slope of dark sand but, unlike Lembeh, no rubbish.
We quickly found shrimp gobies, nudibranchs, pipefish, dragonets, mantis shrimps, lionfish, waspfish, scorpionfish and a long-arm octopus. Numerous sea-pens sprouted from the sand, and some were home to porcelain crabs and commensal shrimps.
We also spotted numerous sea anemones populated with panda anemonefish, and most were enthusiastically guarding eggs.
Andi also pointed out two endemic species, the Batanta dottyback and a group of lyre-tail fire gobies.
The other muck-sites, at Bethlehem, Algae Patch 1 and Bethlehem 2, were a mixture of sand, rubble and patches of coral gardens. At these sites the muck-critters were a little harder to find, with the highlight being the wide variety of small fish.
We found cowfish, jawfish, oriental sea robins, soles, lionfish, grubfish, dottybacks, gobies, damsels, blennies and small angelfish – but the standout were the flasher wrasse.
Andi had attempted to point out these small, colourful fish at a few sites in Misool, but with so much coral and fish about they hadn’t stood out from the crowd. In this muck environment it was much easier to observe them.
At first they didn’t look much different from other wrasse – but then we witnessed the males fanning out their fins to flash their brilliant colours.
They were much too fast for our cameras, so we gave up on photography and simply watched the performance.
The muck-dives at Batanta were very enjoyable, and while we didn’t see as many critters as at other famous muck-sites, we could see the potential for the area. Andi also informed us that there were other good muck-sites on the northern side of the island.
We would have loved to do a night-dive at one of these sites, but instead we had an overnight trip ahead to reach the Dampier Strait.