What Does A Conservation Cruise Itinerary Look Like?

A number of times each year, Samata teams up with local NGOs or businesses to offer its resources in support of environmental conservation work. In addition, it’s possible for guests to participate in these conservation efforts during their vacation on board with us. To give you an example of what a conservation cruise itinerary looks like, Samata’s cruise director Michael Click recounts a recent Manta Ray surveying trip in Ternate, Indonesia that involved some regular guests.


After months of research and an enormous effort on the part of so many we are about to start our Manta survey trip from Ternate one of the original Spice Islands all the way through Raja Ampat to Sorong in West Papua – almost 400 nautical miles. Along the way we will be diving, snorkelling, flying the drone and speaking with local fisherman and villages all in the effort to find and learn more about Manta Rays in this area. This effort is a small part in the gathering of much needed data to help protect Manta Rays. Statistically once Manta Rays and other fish are protected in a specific area the local people and economy improves with the influx of tourists, creating a huge win-win for the local people and the environment.

This idea started with conversations about creating experiences for our guests that connect them to the environment and the conservation efforts in a real and meaningful way. We are fortunate to have guests onboard Samata who continue to join us year after year and have now become dear friends. Sometime between late October and early November for the past nine years Nikolay and Maya have chartered Samata for about ten days. In that time we have explored the far reaches of Indonesia. They both have a deep passion for the ocean and the conservation of wildlife. Nikolay has a particular passion for Manta Rays, he feels a connection to them every time he is near them.  Knowing our guests interests so well and now knowing the needs of our conservation friends. It seemed to be the perfect trip for 2019.


Ternate has a quaint look and feel to it and to my surprise our local agent Pak Lucman said he thinks the population is around one million people. Originally governed by the Sultan and his empire, Ternate has a rich history dating back over a thousand years. The island is a huge volcano with a Sultans palace and old Dutch and Portuguese forts from the days when Ternate was part of the epicentre in the spice islands. 


I was lucky to meet with the local Dive shop operator Dedy and his team from Dodoku Dive Center. He took us on a couple dives in the area. The first was a nice little reef dive called ‘City Side’ just in front of the mosque. There are a couple wrecks and several busses along with lots of artificial reef building structures. There were fantastic signs of the communities desire and understanding about conservation above the water and below. The second dive was a nice pinnacle with healthy corals and a cool little swim through. Later that night after dinner we started our journey south to the Goraici Islands.


Before the diving starts we head to the small village on Pulau Gafi to have a chat with the people there. We try to stop in at the local villages to say hello and drop off a few supplies. We are also making sure they are ok with our plans for diving in the area. We get very important information about Mantas from them too. Unfortunately, these folks said they do not see many Mantas in this area. Though they do see a lot of sharks and sometimes very large ones, this made us all very excited. These visits are important in many ways, it gives us a chance to talk with them in a relaxed way about conservation and how important it is to practice sustainable methods of fishing. All too often we see damage from explosive fishing tactics. The people here were really friendly. One of the older gentlemen took me on a short walk through the village and introduced me to a few other people and we talked about his fish and how he takes trips back to Ternate to sell his fish. Diving commences.


The cruise was about 2 hours south and the seas were calm with a beautiful sunrise. This was a location I had spoken with Dr. Erdmann about along with several others who all said this was a good chance to see Manta’s here. We decided today would be spent diving along the same reef system were we thought we had the best chance to see Mantas. 

Upon entering the crystal clear water it comes alive with the morning reef hustle. It’s funny how sunrise and sunset create this activity across the spectrum of species on the planet. Whether on land or in the sea the new day brings an energy and movement with it as everyone and everything makes their way to their place in life.  

On our third dive we see three mantas!


We leave around 02:00 for our 6 hour cruise to reach the Saleh Islands by about 08:00. These are a small chain of islands that sit in the middle of a channel between Halmahera and Bacan Islands. With the tidal flow pushing through here the amount of life in these waters is breath taking. We often say to our guests if you want to see lots of fish and sometimes big fish you have to go where they live and that is into the current. We did two dives in this area and both were absolutely packed with fish swarming over the jungle like reefs. Big schools of surgeons, fusiliers, massive tuna, mackerel, and some big and very curious black tip sharks.

We decided to get a head start on the long cruise we had ahead. On this night we would be cruising to Pulau Pisang about 100 miles southeast.


This is a relatively small island compared with where we came from. As we approach the island it reminds me of all the other small little dots across this incredible country that we have had the great fortune to explore. Remote is the general feeling along with a sense of adventure and exploration that this island goes days maybe weeks or months without another human even looking at it. It’s rare to have an island to yourself. Pisang has a smaller island off the SE side and two more on the NW corner. We did three dives around these smaller islands all very nice. The first two were drift dives with strong current. The reef was in good condition with lots of fish and more sharks, but no mantas. We enjoyed the sunset and waited till later in the evening to cruise to our next stop at the Boo islands.


Before getting into the islands we had information about a sea mount about 6 miles south of the Boo islands. This was particularly exciting for us as the thrill of jumping in the water quite literally in the middle really hit the adventurous spirit right on the head. We were exceptionally pleased when we rolled and to see a wall of fish. This was one of my favourite dives of the trip.


The Fam islands are our first stop inside the Raja Ampat park. Our first dive was a spot we were asked to check out just to see if there was any manta action. We move north a bit to Penemu Island where we had two more very nice dives. We also were able to meet some of the local villagers as they stopped by the boat to see if we wanted to buy some of their had mad coconut oil. We bought everything they had.


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The last two days were back in our old stomping grounds and even though our search for mantas did not come through as we had originally hoped, we had a great trip. The weather was amazing with calm seas, the diving was very good with only a small amount of dives that we would only do again for the hopes of finding manta’s. It’s important to remember the trip was as much an opportunity to explore new areas and find some amazing dive sites it was also a chance to help our friends in the conservation effort. We will absolutely do this trip again and the data we have logged during this trip will be added to the growing research effort.

If you’re interested in joining Samata on its next conservation cruise, click here to inquire.

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