Among the uninitiated, a common misconception still lingers around scuba diving: that all the "really good stuff" can only be found in deep water. Here Julia Tyndall shares her experience of diving in Raja Ampat's shallower depths, a necessity for divers with a PFO, dispelling scuba myths and proving that shallower really can be better…
Magic Mountain: The Best Dive of My Life
It's the 3rd April 2018, and our group descends into the water at midday. On our descent, we see a moray eel and Napoleon wrasse at loggerheads over their lunch, with a backdrop of vast swathes of schooling jack and trevally. We watch in amazement, as we hear a ting! from another diver. Surely nothing could be more significant than this on a single dive. I turned my head to somehow communicate 'Yes! I've seen it! We're all staring at this!', as a huge oceanic manta swooshed over the top of us. Ah, yes, probably worth the tinging. From over the summit of the seamount, four other mantas emerge, riding the swell over our heads as we hover in awe of the mantas playfully circling around us. Again, a sharp tinging comes. After a few more persistent tings!, I turn to communicate, again, 'Yep, got it, we're all staring at them.' As I do, my eyes meet the pod of dolphins passing by the reef.
The dive site is Magic Mountain, and, as it says on the tin, the site is a sea mount and the dive is truly magical, averaging at around 4 - 14 metres.
Diving with a PFO
You're probably wondering from the title 'Nice, but what even is a PFO, and why have you mentioned it?'. To start with, it's no rare or debilitating condition. A surprising 25% of the population have it, and it's essentially a minute hole between the two atria of the heart. But as it only rears its ugly head in high pressure environments, it can pose a serious problem for divers if not diagnosed - in the most extreme instances, leading to decompression sickness (commonly known as the bends). Yikes.
However, all is not - in the slightest - doom and gloom for a diver with a PFO. All it means is keeping to a depth of no more than 15 metres and choosing to dive, on average, once a day. Added bonuses for keeping to this depth? Better light for spotting all the macro species and no need for a torch to pick out vibrant colours.
Shallow Diving in Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is ideal for divers with a PFO and for Junior Open Water Divers. I was able to dive all the same sites as the rest of the group, as there is so much to see from as shallow as five metres, despite reefs bottoming out at 30+ metres. The Magic Mountain dive is still the best diving experience of my life, and my average depth was just seven metres. Not only are the seamount dives great, but the wall dives begin at a shallow depth and the muck diving at dusk is fantastic. Expect cuttlefish, squid, lots of cretaceous critters, a plethora of nudibranch and if you're lucky, as we were, epaulette sharks and flatheads.
Raja Ampat: Above Water
In fact, there is still so much to see without even getting in the water. Raja is fantastic for twitchers, and trips ashore can tick off some real big-hitters (Wilsons's and red birds-of-paradise, western crowned pigeon and 247 other known species). A trip ashore in the evening may even, with luck, mean a sighting of a green turtle laying eggs.
The Best Diving in the World?
With Raja as one of the top dive destinations in the world, you can imagine my apprehension that I might not be able to reach the minimum depth of most of the sites. Not only was this not an issue, but Raja's dramatic topography (above and below water), astonishing biodiversity and vibrant marine life meant my hopes were far surpassed.
So, if you're thinking of booking with Original Diving and wondering where to go with a PFO or if you have a Junior Diver amongst your group, I couldn't think of a better-suited or more magical place (full stop!) than Raja Ampat.
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