Life Under Foot
Seahorses mate in the twilight of Florida's setting sun.
Cendana Pearl Farm Pier, Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Dropping down into the shady parts under Alyui Bay’s Cendana Pearl Farm Pier in Raja Ampat, it’s apparent that marine life is at its most robust here. Sunlight sparkles along the edges of the main platform and peeks through the wooden slats to create striking light beams, but most fish and invertebrates prefer the dim confines beneath the pier.
Ignoring divers, well-fed stonefish show their grumpy-looking countenances next to matching mounds of living rock. With incessant currents carrying plankton to the waiting mouths of filter feeders, the stonefish barely have to move in order to feed on large numbers of unsuspecting cardinalfish, damsels or gobies. Not far away, a pair of banded pipefish poke their slender snouts out from crevices, a juvenile crocodilefish mimics a drowned tree branch and a juvenile cuttlefish camouflages itself amid crinoids and sponges. Tear your gaze away from the life on the critter-laden bottom and look upward, where you’ll see a massive school of scad form a silver river of fish slipping between the pier pilings. Onlookers from above, longfin spadefish hover over the scad, watching the parade.
Located near the mouth of the Alyui Bay on the western edge of Waigeo Island, the pearl farm is swept by healthy, nutrient-rich waters that allow prolific marine growth, especially under its main pier. The bay is a large maze of forested islands, limestone islets, thick mangroves and narrow channels that serve as nurseries, reproductive sites and feeding grounds for thousands of marine species. A number of excellent dive sites for both critters and wide-angle scenery are found throughout the area, minutes from any anchorage. Though several nearby channels can provide exhilarating drifts, the Cendana Pier consistently offers light currents and profuse life that is difficult to match.
Every other dive under the pier turns up a resident tasseled wobbegong, which evidently appreciates the abundance of food associated with the pier. Another shark often found amid the mushroom leather corals growing along the pier is the Raja epaulette shark, one of the region’s unusual endemics. The pier, its pilings and surrounding habitat are absolutely loaded with the bizarre creatures that divers have a special affinity for, from tiny shrimp, frogfish and waspfish to sweeping scenes of reef diversity. Dappled by light and shadows, sponges, soft corals, gorgonians, bivalves and delicate tunicates clutter the site with dreamlike scenery, which is as good as it gets no matter what divers are in search of. — Ethan Daniels
Make It Happen
With a number of interesting dive sites, Alyui Bay is a common stop for live-aboards exploring Raja Ampat’s northern islands. Though the pier is used on a daily basis for loading and unloading pearl-farm equipment, it can be dived at almost any time of day or night with permission from the farm management. Water temperatures are fairly constant, ranging between 81 to 84 degrees F year-round, but visibility can vary from 40 to 70 feet depending on the tide and weather. Live-aboards can anchor within minutes of the pier and, due to it being fairly shallow (between 3 and 45 feet), divers can expect to stay under the dock for long periods. Eleven-night trips on board the Paradise Dancer (www.dancerfleet.com) start from $4,750.