For me, Heaven on Earth, or perhaps more correctly Heaven Underwater is Raja Ampat. Deep in Indonesia, this extensive and remote archipelago of the western end of the island of New Guinea is a wonderland. I quickly realized that I couldn’t summarize it all in a single FULL FRAME, so I’ve restricted myself here to just one part of Raja Ampat – Misool, and one type of imagery – scenics. Raja is an outrageously diverse destination, both in terms of the marine life and the diving experiences and I accept that my narrow brief will miss the standout memories of the place for many of you. So apologies for the lack of delicate pygmies, photogenic jetties, queues of mantas, squashed schools of sweetlips, or hypnotic wobbegongs). But I am sure that Raja Ampat will remain a favored theme in future installments of FULL FRAME and you’ll get all that from others!
I first photographed Misool in 2006 when it was far less known. At the time we were the only divers in the whole area and one self-proclaimed Raja Ampat expert (of the time) even warning us we were wasting our time going! For me, it was love at first sight, and just like the truest passions, it has only grown over time. And I can back up my blossoming affections with hard science. For example, there are now more than 25 times more sharks on these reefs than when I first visited. Species we are used to witnessing being strangled from the oceans are multiplying here. There is no secret formula, just sound marine conservation. Misool Eco Resort has been at the core because there is way more to their name than marketing. The Resort founded and sustains a 300,000-acre marine protected area, employing a 15 strong team of local rangers, patrolling using a 5-boat fleet, and using radar surveillance to prevent fishing. And when we give nature a fair chance it thrives. Scientists measured a 250% average increase in the amount of fish inside the reserve over just a 6-year period. What is not to love?
Photographically, then, for me, the story of these reefs is not the simple beauty of a soft coral or the delicate and gaudy branches of a sea fan. These are reefs run wild, where corals that cling on in so many places around the world, seem to grow with the vigor of weeds from every nook and cranny. Above, below and on every side of them fish pack in and food chains play out. This is something I try and communicate when shooting wide angle, with the aim not just of producing pretty pictures, but images that convey marine life not just thriving, but running amok.