Markus and the Hydrosaurus of Mayalabit Bay – a lizard typically thought to be only found in Ambon and Papua New Guinea!

We’re always amazed by local knowledge of the natural environment… even more so when it comes from  children!

Recently we had the privilege of exploring Mayalibit Bay with our friend Markus, who has spent 9yrs of his life (ie: his whole life) in, on and around the waters of Mayalibit. This area is markedly different from the more well known areas of Raja Ampat; a narrow mouth opens into a vast, cliff lined bay of 49,451 hectares, containing large networks of mangrove and seagrass and surrounded by dense, primary rainforest. Rivers and inlets snake their way through the forest, which (for the adventurous) can occasionally be followed to their source – where crystal clear, fresh water streams from rocky clefts. Mayalibit Bay was the first Marine Protected Area (MPA) declared in Raja Ampat, and it is an extraordinary place made even more extraordinary when explored in the company of a local.  

Arno and Markus headed up river from Mayalibit Bay

As we were cruising slowly, Markus explained to us so many features of the bay and its various outlets; where the big fish were, where crocodiles were and weren’t, the local fishing grounds and areas where fishing is forbidden.

During this rich and colorful explanation, Markus began to describe an iguana that lived in a tree and hunted fish. Intrigued, and slightly confused (having never seen nor heard of such a lizard in the area) we asked if he was referring to a ‘soa soa’ – a monitor lizard, which is relatively common around the area. Markus was adamant that he was not, and that the lizard he was talking about was definitely an iguana with a crest on its tail, that lived in a tree and hunted fish.

Puzzled.. we continued on, and less than FIVE MINUTES later… what do we (or rather, Markus) spot?? An iguana, sitting on a tree over the water, with the perfectly described crest on its tail!

SailFin Lizard Mayalibit Bay

The Sailfin Lizard (Hydrosaurus amboinesis)

Thrilled to see a new species, a little post trip research told us that Markus had just introduced us to the Sailfin Lizard (Hydrosaurus amboinensis) , a member of the iguana family! The Sailfin lizard is the largest of all Hydrosaurus, growing up to 1.3m in length.  With a diet of fish, frogs, fruits, vegetables and insects, the sailfin lizard has the very cool ability to run across the surface of the water on its hind legs (amazing!).

The majority of documentation suggests this species is only found Ambon and New Guinea… but once again local knowledge adds to and enhances scientific knowledge; just ask Markus how many of these lizards he’s seen around Mayalabit – the answer is ‘banyak!’ (many/alot).  And once again, Raja Ampat flexes its biodiversity muscle by playing home to a species typically thought to be only found elsewhere! (fyi: after digging around for a really long time, we were able to come across another official record of Hydrosaurus amboinesis in Raja Ampat, specifically in Waigeo – where we saw had our sighting).

All in all..we had an amazing time in Mayalibit, with it’s extraordinary forests, rives, cliffs and green waters, accompanied by the storytelling and knowledge of Markus.  What are our our take home lessons?

  1. Always learn what you can from local people about the natural environment you’re in.
  2. Always listen to the stories of children, there’s both truth and gold in them.