Thursday, March 3, 2011

Indonesia Expedition: Another day, another ocean…

I’ve been bouncing from ocean to ocean over the past few months (e.g. Caribbean-Red, Sea-IndoPacific), with targeted scientific objectives in each place. But it’s impossible not to notice the many similarities and differences, all fascinating: the natural history scientist in me is absolutely in heaven. Comparative intuitions are coming so fast and furious that it’s a challenge to keep up with them all. And the organisms are breathtaking!

(Crinoids perched on seafans, Photo: R. Rotjan)

( A drfting aggregation of bigeye snapper, Lutjanus lutjanus Photo: R. Rotjan)

I’m in Indonesia at the moment, in a very special corner of the world called Raja Ampat. Here, there are ~600 species of coral and ~1400 species of fish, all living amidst over 1,500 islands and an as yet undiscovered number of subsurface seamounts. This expedition is a joint effort between Conservation International (CI), National Geographic, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and the New England Aquarium. The stated goal is to discover, dive and document seamounts that are not yet on the map. We’re on a long steam to get to the region where we’ll be working, but along the way we’ve done a few dives to get oriented to the ecosystem. Some of the most striking and abundant organisms here are the crinoids, tunicates, soft corals and seafans.

Orange soft coral, purple and yellow tunicates, and a magenta crinoid make for a colorful landscape in Raja Ampat. Freckled hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri) perched on top. (Photo: R. Rotjan)

White-polyps on a seafan create a snowy backdrop amidst the brilliant colors. (Photo: R. Rotjan)

I’ll let some of the other bloggers tell you more about the seamounts--my primary objective here is to help characterize the coral diversity and condition on every seamount we explore. But at the same time, I’m busy doing my usual thing--looking at fish-coral interactions and documenting patterns of corallivory. But this time, I’m looking at these interactions in the heart of the coral triangle with the highest diversity of corals anywhere on the planet. I’m intimidated (as any coral biologist used to lower diversity ecosystems should be), but I’m lucky to have some local expertise with me on-board the Putri Papua, an Indonesian live-aboard chartered by Dr. Crissy Huffard, a scientist at Conservation International.

The M/V Putri Papua with Misool Island in the background. (Photo: R. Rotjan)

On-board the Putri Papua, about to set sail. (Photo: R. Rotjan)

Crissy is an expert in cephalopod (octopus and squid) reproduction and behavioral ecology, but she also leads a monitoring team at CI. Fellow CI team members on board with us are Erdi Lazuardi--Raja Ampat monitoring team leader and intrepid coral taxonomist, Ronald Mambrasar--fellow coral enthusiast hailing from Arborek Island, where on any given day you can see manta rays from the village dock, Defy Pada--Kaimana monitoring team leader and fish geek extraordinaire, and Elvis Mambraku--fisher-turned-conservationist who now uses his talent for catching lobster to monitor their size and reproductive demographics. Rounding out the science crew is Dr. Erika Montague from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, who has brought her unmanned camera engineering skills along to help us document shy fish, including sharks and grouper.

Here are a few photos of organisms we found surrounding the islands. Time will tell what we find in the depths!

Horned flathead, Thysanophrys carbunculus (Photo: R. Rotjan)

(Photo: R. Rotjan)

(Photo: R. Rotjan)

(Photo: R. Rotjan)

(Photo: R. Rotjan)

(Photo: R. Rotjan)

As we steam from one place to another, I’ll say goodnight for now but when I wake I’ll be in yet another corner of Raja Ampat. Yes, trite but true: another day, another ocean.

- Randi


  1. WOW! Breathtaking photos. We're using this blog to help introduce our three sons (ages 2, 4, and 5) to the brilliant diversity in the world's oceans. Please keep it coming!

  2. Thanks so much for reading and sharing in our adventures!