The name Arborek may sound foreign to those who have never visited an islet at Meos Mansar District, Raja Ampat. The small island is only seven hectares, or around one-tenth of the National Monument or Monas area. You can even travel the whole island in two hours by bicycling or walking.
The small island is known as one of the world’s best diving spots. The clear water indulges the divers’ visuals with great sceneries; the variety of corals, fishes with various colors, and the white sands are Arborek’s main attractions for the divers. But, what makes it different from other diving spots?
Raja Ampat is home to 540 types of coral reefs, 1,511 fish species, and over 700 types of mollusks. All of them live in the Arborek’s underwater paradise. No wonder that many divers name it ‘the mini aquarium of Raja Ampat.’ Those who don’t have much time to visit diving spots in Raja Ampat, just dive into the undersea of Arborek to taste the real Raja Ampat.
Even just by standing on the pier, you can watch the fishes dance down there as if they perform a special show for you. They swim here and there, maneuvering through the beautiful coral reefs, showing off their shimmering colors. Some of them like to gather and swim in a group. All of their actions entertain the tourists.
No large ship may enter and/or pass through, and lean on the water, bringing good luck for the preservation of the undersea paradise of Arborek. Cruise ships are not allowed to throw their anchor arbitrarily. The government and the locals have agreed on the locations where ships may anchor. An iron measuring 500 kilograms-1.2 tonnes can kill the coral reefs that support the life deep down the Arborek.
Arborek, in the local language, means thorn. Based on the story of Arborek’s ancestors, the area used to be covered with thorny bushes. Their ancestors came from Biak, the northern coastal area of Papua – northwest of Papua New Guinea, hundreds of years ago. The first time they arrive on the island, they can only see thorny bushes.
Together they cleared the area from the bushes until it fit for them to live in. Their descendants are now the people who inhabit, sustain, and guard Arborek that they ‘found’. That was how Arborek got its name.
The Arborek ancestors were wise toward nature. They realized they must preserve nature that gives everything they need to support their life and their future descendants. Once the area was cleared from the bushes and thorns, they formed regulations to live side by side with nature, dismissed the greed and desire to overexploit the natural products.
Until today, the Betew tribe who inhabits Arborek scrupulously keeps the mandate of their ancestors. It shows from their assertive behavior toward the visitors willing to enjoy Arborek’s nature. Tourists are only allowed to dive undersea with the guidance of the locals or operator trusted by the Arborek community, to prevent the divers from acting recklessly.
Arborek is the home to mantas. There is a cleaning station for manta rays to clean themselves, in the northeast of this village, known as Manta Sandy. Divers would not want to miss a chance to swim with the mantas. Unfortunately, many divers show no respect for the sea creature. They chase after the manta rays, showing their arrogance for the sake of a sensational photo.
As a result, manta rays were reluctant to go back to Manta Sandy. Therefore in June 2017, a regulation was formed for the divers wishing to explore the area around the Manta Sandy. Those who want to dive into the area must report to Manta Sandy Post. They will be informed about how to interact with manta, among others: divers must maintain distance when passing by a herd of mantas, they should only stand still and watch.
The regulation also limits the number of divers at the Manta Sandy area to only 20 people per-hour. If a diver or operator violates this rule, they are barred from visiting Arborek ever again. The manta supervisors who have been trained for years to watch tourism activities in Arborek would not fall for bribery as they respect nature more than the diver or tour operator who dares to act rude.
But that doesn’t mean that the locals are not friendly toward the tourists. The village was once named the best village in Raja Ampat due to its best quality in every aspect offered by the people of Arborek to the tourists. You will need 1.5-2 hours from Waisai by riding on a speedboat to experience the hospitality of Arborek.