Curiouser and curiouser

“If we look at a globe or a map of the Eastern hemisphere, we shall perceive between Asia and Australia a number of large and small islands. Situated upon the Equator, and bathed by the tepid water of the great tropical oceans, this region … teems with natural productions which are elsewhere unknown.”

In 1860, naturalist and co-discoverer of evolutionary theory, Alfred Russel Wallace, found himself in a little hut on the island of Gam in Raja Ampat. Nearly 160 years later, we were treading on the same ground, searching for the same things: the curious inhabitants of this equatorial jungle.

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“It was quite a dwarf’s house, just eight feet square, raised on posts so that the floor was four and half feet above the ground, and the highest part of the ridge only five feet above the floor. As I’m six feet and an inch in my stockings, I looked at this with some dismay.”

In the pre-dawn darkness we were collected from our boats in a little dugout canoe and taken into a lagoon, past blinking fireflies, to a little dock where we commenced a short climb up to the lekking tree of the red bird of paradise. For the next hour we were mesmerised as the male paradise birds hopped from branch to branch putting on their famous display. The female birds may not have been duly impressed, but we certainly were! The previous day we had done a similar trip across to Waigeo to see the Wilson’s bird of paradise, and just like in an Attenborough documentary, this little guy kept his patch ship shape with constant fussing and pruning.  During other birdwatching forays we spotted the glossy manucode (another bird of paradise) and so many other amazing-looking birds – royal spoonbills, Blyth’s hornbills, and palm cockatoos – in all more than one hundred species of birds.

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Red bird of paradise
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Wilson’s bird of paradise
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Royal spoonbill
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Blyth’s hornbill
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And a spotted cuscus – a “species of the curious genus Cuscus, which is peculiar to the AustroMalayan region. These are opossum-like animals, with a long prehensile tail, … small heads, large eyes, and a dense covering of woolly fur, which is often pure white with irregular black spots or blotches.” (Alfred Wallace)

And then there’s the marine biodiversity, arguably the richest on Earth.  Alfred Wallace was only able to admire the reef from above – “it was a sight to gaze at for hours, and no description can do justice to its surpassing beauty and interest” – but he would have been blown away had he been able to scuba dive back in his day. His colourful and detailed descriptions of birds and butterflies would no doubt have extended to the underwater curiousities that are ubiquitous on Raja Ampat’s reefs. During our six weeks of cruising we spotted more than 40 nudibranch species, 8 species of shark, and countless fish varieties.

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electric fire clam, also known as a disco clam, due to the appearance of flashing lights, Friwen Wall
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upside-down-jellyfish, Yanggelo
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broadfin cuttlefish, Yanbuba
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leaf scorpion-fish, Yanbuba

Shout out to Biodiversity Eco Resort for their wonderful hospitality, birdwatching opportunities and professional dive trips.

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Alfred Wallace (Chris) and his nudibranch find (Liz) at our Equator dress-up party at Kawe Island.
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