Why you should care
There’s diving, and then there’s diving at a remote island without a boat or piece of trash in sight.
What struck me most about the dive was the silence. Without another boat on the bay or another soul in sight, there was a quiet serenity that made this bucket-list trip — to a remote island on a revived coral reef — that much more meaningful. Below, immersed in the clear water, I was welcomed by a rainbow of rare inhabitants: tiny colorful nudibranchs, gigantic manta rays and a rainbow of sea stars.
This is Raja Ampat, Indonesia, an archipelago with some of the richest marine life on the planet. There are more than 1,300 varieties of fish and 75 percent of the planet’s hard coral species here. At its heart is the MahaRaja Eco Dive Lodge, whose mission is to be one of the most eco-friendly dive accommodations on Earth. Through conservation efforts in the sea and earth-friendly living on land, the resort has created a refuge for all manner of sea creatures and the opportunity to experience them as ethically as possible.
Mahasti Motazedi created the resort because there was nothing like it in existence. Motazedi, who is a master scuba diver trainer and has been diving for 12 years, was looking for a place where diving respects the natural environment and doesn’t leave a footprint. “I didn’t find a place like this, so I decided to create it,” she says. Although diving is all about enjoying underwater life, it often leaves a negative impact — like leaked boat fuel, destruction of coral, fishing and trash left behind — on the environments that host that life.
After a year’s search in Raja Ampat, Motazedi purchased the tiny heart-shaped Dokri Island in Batanta from local Papuan families. MahaRaja opened in 2018 with the goal of having minimal impact on the natural surroundings and marine life, while also operating in harmony with the Papuan community. Wood was sourced from 100 local families in order to distribute payment as well as lighten the impact on forests. At least one member of every local family now works with the lodge, and employees are taught English and given the chance to train to become certified dive masters.
Accommodation is eco-friendly and traditional. There are five Papuan round wooden bungalows, called Honais, which are built over the ocean and offer biodegradable toiletries and solar lanterns — the complex is mostly solar-powered. When guests register, they are required to take a pledge, agreeing to respect all marine life, leave all coral untouched and leave no trace. That even means no sunscreen, which can pollute the water.
Divers can expect to spot everything from a blacktip shark to a dugong, from Bryde’s whales to crocodile fish.
You can get some mineral-based, eco-friendly sunscreen on the wooden boats used to explore off-site diving areas. But you’re likely going to spend your time at one of the four dive sites on the reef, accessible via swimming from the beach or jetty — the longest in Raja Ampat — which is built past the edge of the reef to protect the coral, which was nearly destroyed by dynamite fishing.
Underwater is a vibrant feast for the eyes. Divers can expect to see everything from a blacktip shark to a dugong, from Bryde’s whales to crocodile fish. During fluorescent night dives, blue UV torches — which marine life cannot see — are used to observe psychedelic coral, sleeping fish and lionfish. Sometimes staff and guests spot marine life they’ve “never seen before” on the reef, says Bernard Rumbewas, the director of the lodge. Since opening, they’ve seen 20 new marine species appear in the area, and a 400 percent increase in those they’ve been monitoring, such as the batfish, reef shark and bumpheads.
Because the location is so remote, it can be challenging and time-consuming to receive goods. The resort also still relies on fuel that is purchased from other islands in the archipelago — the boat batteries are charged with a generator — but Motazedi hopes to remove all fuel from the island and install a solar charging station.
The MahaRaja’s conservation efforts might be serving as an example to other diving sites in the Coral Triangle (the western Pacific Ocean marine area). Two have recently closed over accumulated environmental damage caused by tourism. The Beach-famous Maya Bay in Thailand has shut indefinitely until the area has been rehabilitated. Komodo Island in Indonesia is expected to close its doors to tourists by January 2020 — the natural habitats for Komodo dragons and hundreds of aquatic species are under threat.
Motazedi likes to see MahaRaja as the “last paradise on Earth for scuba divers.” It’s a place where you can deeply connect with nature without the whir of boat motors and plastic trash floating by. You might even spot a whale shark or an orca.
Go There: Maharaja Eco Dive Lodge
- Location: Fly to Domine Eduard Osok Airport in Sorong, West Papua, Indonesia. From there, guests are picked up by the resort and taken to the lodge by (pink) boat.
- Cost: A “Short Stay Package” (5 day, 4 nights) costs 325 EUR ($360) per person per night, and includes four meals, which are vegan. The per-person cost reduces with the number of people in your party.
- Pro tip: If you can get a group of 10 or more together, you have the whole island to yourselves.