Monday, July 9, 2012

Diving With Whale Sharks in Cenderawasih Bay

Just meters below the surface a behemoth awaits. The other anxious divers, all new friends and fellow boarders booked on the Sea Safari’s eight-day, seven-night liveaboard, float in awe as the largest fish in the sea cuts silently through the water above. The whale shark, the size of a bus, swims effortlessly past leaving a swath of current born of a tail so strong it could kill a man. This is the best of Indonesia. This is Papua’s Cenderawasih Bay.

Located on the Bird’s Head of Indonesia’s easternmost province, Cenderawasih Bay, one of the most coveted dive spots in the world and home to some 600 species of coral, 955 species of fish and one of the only locations in the world that almost guarantees whale sharks all year round.

“It was amazing. I have only seen a whale shark once before, and it was alone,” says Sophie Lejeune, a dive instructor based in Bali, out exploring Papua on accrued vacation. “We saw three whale sharks together on the first dive and on the second dive there were two very large whale sharks and a smaller adolescent.”

To find these gargantuan filter-feeders of plankton, take an eight-day Sea Safari adventure on a traditional Phinisi boat, a vessel native to South Sulawesi. The ship is powered by a modern motor but is still equipped with beautiful white sails. At the trip’s end, the captain raises them up for a unique photo opportunity.

Cenderawasih Bay is a great example of ecotourism done right. Sadly, though, it is also a rare one. Coastal regions are often the first to feel the negative effects of irresponsible tourist activities, and more regulation is required to keep the majority of Indonesia’s coastal communities healthy and thriving. Cenderawasih has become a great example of how ecotourism should be managed, with deep commitment and initiative from the community and promises kept and a respected rule of law enforced by the local government.

“It’s a good example of how the mind-set of a community, not just investment and infrastructure, is the best vehicle for ecological preservation,” says Riyanni Djankarou, editor in chief of Divemag Indonesia. “You can build an airport and a road, but the mind-set is what is key. Everyone here is connected, from the government to NGOs to the local people.”

Read more: Jakarta Globe

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