After circulations on the internet via Facebook and Youtube stating that the dive site has been damaged, Jace Green from Sea Safari dived the site and gave us this report.
Dive Site Report Mellissa’s Garden 14 APRIL 2015:
I was devastated, as I’m sure most of you were, when I heard a report and watched a video that was circulating on Facebook stating that “the entire reef top of Melissa's Garden was systematically flatten by blast fishing” within the last six months.
I was due to head to Penemu Island, Raja Ampat with 10 guests on April the 14th 2015. We had planned 4 dives in the area and the first of them was at Melissa’s Garden at 730am.
As a pro underwater videographer I am well aware of the threats our oceans are under. I have a huge stock footage database of bleached coral, underwater trash and plastic, divers with bad buoyancy damaging the reef and even some footage of the immediate after effects of blast fishing at Citrus Ridge, Yangeffo Island where I filmed hundreds of dead and dying fusiliers in October 2014. Not a very nice welcome to Raja Ampat with VIP’s onboard.
However, all my footage was requested by the Fisheries Dept in Sorong once we returned after the trip and I gladly handed it over with the hope it would be helpful in combating this trend of unsustainable, wasteful and very destructive fishing in the area.
So, I was very keen to get in the water and gather some more, if not very depressing, high quality footage of the recent destruction reported on social media.
We dropped in on the North North East side of the big rock and headed South with the reef top on my right and our guests and guides down about 25 metres. I purposely did not go deeper than 15 metres deep for the whole dive, in fact I spent most of my 70 min dive between 12 and 5 metres armed with my video camera waiting to come across fields of broken and dying corals, no fish, rubble. I headed further round the dive site to the South West, West, North West I covered the main area that is shown in the dive site map in the briefing (see pic).
To my surprise, and delight I found no damage, apart from an old trail of broken coral where some careless boater has dragged an anchor across the reef top, I had seen this damage here when I first arrived back in October. Even then I could tell it was old by the amount of algae and new growth that was surrounding it, although unsightly, it was nowhere near the amount of destruction I was expecting to see. After 70 mins I saw nothing, nothing at all, except for thousands of fish, beautiful fields of soft corals, enormous table corals, large areas of branching corals pulsing with Anthias and Blue Chromis, huge schools of surgeon fish and fusiliers. It looked exactly as it did the last time I was here 3 weeks ago!
I became confused at this point, I felt disappointed that I did not get the footage of destruction I was expecting but also elated because the very special dive site I know and have been diving for the last 6 months called Melissa’s Garden had not been “systematically flatten by blast fishing”.
After the dive I spoke with our guides about the video that was posted on Facebook, they watched it and what they told me surprised me. They said “this damage is on the far west part of the dive site, it was damaged 2-3 years ago by fishermen and according to our guide who lives in Sorong, the perpetrators we caught and shot dead by the “local” police.
Granted I have only been diving this area of Indonesia for 6 months solid, with trips at least 3 times a month to this particular dive site amounting to more or less 20 dives on this site, I feel I know it fairly well. Some may say otherwise.