Diving Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape: A Book Review

As an organizer of liveaboard trips to unexplored areas of the Indonesian archipelago, I’ve always been very grateful to the folks at Conservation International, particularly Drs Mark Erdmann and Gerald Allen. CI’s Indonesian Marine Program conducts marine surveys in many new areas, and data from those surveys form a big part of my trip planning.  Places like Cape Kri’s famous 284 species of fish etc, all resulted from such expeditions. Those expeditions are also a big part in allowing certain areas to be marine protected areas.

Such data isn’t easy to get by the public and all operators should be able to give customer’s the choice of what kind of sites. Overcrowding of marquee sites was also becoming a bit of a problem as tourism grew in the area. It was a great boon to the tourism industry in the area when Maureen Shimlock and Burt Jones published their book, Diving Indonesia’s Raja Ampat for CI. It included many new sites in the area, researched by Maureen and Burt over months on various liveaboards and offered travelers insight into the wonderful biodiversity of the area.

Since then, Papua Barat (aka Irian Jaya or West Papua) has become the symbol of marine biodiversity capital of Indonesia. Boats are now going to Triton Bay and Cenderawasih (Cendrawasih) regularly and parts of those areas have become MPAs and even National Marine Parks. Yet there were no real guide books for those areas.

Seeing how successful the first book was, CI again called on Maurine and Burt to write a second book which covers the areas where major marine conservation efforts are being concentrated on in the Papua Barat region. When Maureen asked if I wanted to review the book (and she knows how hard I am on reviews), I jumped at the opportunity.


Like the first book, this book is printed in Indonesia, on a grant by CI. The simple but elegant cover shows Nursalim’s flasher wrasse (one of many endemic species named in the book) and is decorated by indigenous art. The table of contents showed 4 forewords by Indonesian government officials from the area, showing how much governmental interest there is in supporting conservation in the area and also the interest in the tourism it could bring.

There’s a section on tourism by Kal Muller, the authors of Diving Indonesia, another guide on diving in Indonesia. Travel practicalities, when to go etc are all in the book. There’s even a code of conduct for dive operators and divers, which is a wonderful thing for customers to know what the boats are supposed to do.


If general knowledge is something that interests you, then this book has many interesting facts about the area, from the geological to the biological. For example, there’s a section dedicated to listing a few of the many endemic marine animals like flasher wrasse, bamboo sharks and mantis shrimps, written by Drs Gerald Allen and Mark Erdmann. That is an important section for shooters who like to shoot rare endemic species and also identify them as many aren’t in the older id books.


Indonesia’s largest marine national park is now in Cenderawasih bay and is the first section in the book.  Cenderawasih is the hottest area right now.  I was fascinated to read about how the Cenderawasih area was isolated from currents and thus the bio intake was limited compared to the other areas. It became almost like an inland sea, where the marine animals evolved differently from their species in other areas. Different (and odd) coloration, and even habit differences abound. The Burgess Butterflyfish is found in shallow waters on here, whereas their cousins are found usually below 40m! Of course, there’s mention of the leatherback turtle nesting sites and the famous whaleshark of Nabire.


The next section is Raja Ampat.  Yes, all the dive sites are repeated from the first book but some sites are new.  More importantly, the changes in MPAs required an update from the original book. This book gave the publishers an opportunity to do just that. It still forms the biggest section of the book due to the size of the area involved. As Alex Mustard noted in his review of the previous book, the authors also say there isn’t enough space to comprehensively cover the entire area. The authors did try to cover the important areas and encourage readers to explore the region even more.

The final section covered is Triton Bay, the area that was the hottest area until Cenderawasih came along. The Triton Bay area has garnered additional marine protection from the local government against destructive fishing practices.  It covers all of the popular dive sites including what I consider to be the best dive site south of Misool, Little Komodo.


There is no shortage of surprising information in this area. I was intrigued by the explanation of why the region is such a “species factory.”  For example, Tanjung Papisol broke the previous record for most species of fish in one dive site (Kri, 284 species) with a record 330! Species factory indeed! 

The area is known for many new endemic species like the famous walking shark and flasher wrasse. But most interesting of all is the fact that the CI monitors have noticed bagans (fish net platforms) in the area have their own whaleshark pets in the bay.  It’s actually possible to have a private whale shark dive around the bagans.                           


I could go on about the book’s details on the areas covered, the travel information, the local cultural interests for tourism and even diving information. Every dive site is described and GPS points and what kind of photography is recommended for each site are also listed.  For me, the gems are in the little known information about the areas. If there is an essential photography dive guide to Papua Barat, this would be it. If you are going to or interested in going to the area, this is a must have book.  Here’s where you can order it from:

Diving Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Order page

DISCLOSURE: The sample book was given to me for review. I’m keeping it! I’m also buying one to support CI’s effort. You should too. :)