Max Ammer, a Dutchman among the Papuans.

Max Ammer, a Dutchman among the Papuans

  Indonesia: Raja Ampat + Bali - March 2012

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

The Dutchman Max Ammer is the "pioneer" of diving in Raja Ampat. Quite a character. He is an environmental adventurer, an enthusiastic explorer and a fabulous storyteller.

Mini-seaplane and pocket helicopter pilot

I am delighted to have met Max Ammer, during my stay on the island of Kri in Raja Ampat, in Indonesian Papua, in March 2012. I wasn't sure, before coming, if he would be there. He is the one who runs the two resorts in Papua Diving on the island (Kri Eco Resort and Sorido Bay Resort).

By way of introduction, I invite you to watch the videos below...

Update, September 2020. The first publication of this article dates back to 2012... I add this video from 2020, in which Max Ammer recounts his career and the initiatives launched in recent years (electric catamarans, helicopters, aviation in Papua, in addition to environmental and social projects developed locally), all against a backdrop of sumptuous underwater images, which reflect the extraordinary richness of Raja Ampat. This video portrait (in English) gives a good idea of the character:


I leave below, as a complement, another older video, which I had inserted when this article was first published in 2012.

We discover Max and his small yellow plane-ULM of the time (the images go back to many years) intended for the missions of conservation and protection of the natural park of Raja Ampat (tracking of illegal fishing boats and marine animals, scientific expeditions, reports, etc.).

As you can see in these pictures, the flight over the archipelago is spectacular! And you will surely have noticed this incredible "caravan" of manta rays,, whose dark triangles can be seen lining up under the surface ...

Max unfortunately managed to crash into the water with this pocket seaplane. He was incredibly lucky, he escaped unhurt. Not at all chilled by the accident, he hopes to fly over Raja Ampat again in a new aircraft, he confided to me in 2012: "The project should soon become a reality..."

Update, December 2018. It took him several years, but Max managed to have his first helicopter built, on the island of Kri! A "pocket" helicopter of the model Bell-47, of which all the parts were transported and then assembled on site... In December 2018, I even had the chance to climb aboard and fly over Kri and its surroundings, during test flights! Maybe I'll tell it on the blog one of these days...

With Max Ammer in a "pocket" Bell helicopter he managed to build on site, on Kri Island (Raja Ampat, West Papua, December 2018)
At Max Ammer's side in a "pocket" Bell chopper he managed to have built on site, on Kri Island (Raja Ampat, West Papua, December 2018)

A fabulous storyteller

Before leaving for this first stay in March 2012 at Raja Ampat on the island of Kri, I had already read a lot on the internet about Max Ammer, the Dutch "pioneer" of scuba diving among the Papuans. I love the picture he chose to put on his Facebook profile:

Max Ammer, a Dutchman among the Papuans.
Max Ammer. (Source : Facebook / Max Ammer)

And I was not disappointed by the encounter, during my stay at Sorido Bay Resort!

Max Ammer is an extraordinary man, in the true sense of the word. As for her life, she could inspire several novels ...

Telling stories is an activity in which he excels. At dinner time, he is often in a talkative mood and loves nothing more than to amaze his audience with funny or tragic stories, the punch line of which he carefully spares. You can see it when he prepares his little effect, in the middle of a tasty anecdote: he has a smirk and a curl in his eye.

Almost every evening, he joins us at the big table in the restaurant, sometimes with his two teenage daughters (as I said above, the article was first published in 2012, they are now adults). One of them is called Melissa. All the diving tourists of Raja Ampat know her name without necessarily having met her, because of Melissa's Garden, a magnificent coral garden. (photo below).

It was Max who gave their names to almost all the dive sites in the area!

The wonderful coral garden at the site named Melissa's Garden by Max Ammer, after one of his daughters. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2012)
The wonderful coral garden at the site named Melissa's Garden by Max Ammer, after one of his daughters. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2012)

His countless stories about Raja Ampat feature primitive tribes and unexplored jungles, biologists discovering new species of animals and Christian missionaries... But also a whole bunch of anecdotes about the local wildlife, including cassowaries killers and dangerous sea crocodiles - he told me about this attack against a diverwhere the guy got out by sticking his finger in the crocodile's eye!

History, diving and God

Born in the Netherlands in 1961, Max Ammer spent part of his childhood in Nigeria, and as an adult settled in Indonesia, the former Dutch colonyHe first came to find relics of the Second World War - jeeps abandoned in the jungle by the Americans, airplane wrecks, shipwrecks... Passionate about history, he is also fond of mechanics, aeronautics and motorcycles, preferably Harley-Davidsons, of which he even made, for a time, trade in spare parts.

In 1989, he disembarked for the first time in West Papua, on the edge of Oceania and Asia. He discovered the natural riches of the underwater world of Raja Ampat, without losing his taste for the scrap metal sunk since the Second World War - an unusual hobby, which remains his favorite pastime today.

The following years, he went on underwater explorations with other adventurous divers. At that time, there was nothing: you had to camp on the beach, bring a compressor and provisions. In 1993, he created his diving operation, which became Papua Diving.

Max is also a very believer. An Adventist Christian, he is carried by a deep faith - a faith capable, obviously, of raising mountains, in this area of Indonesian Papua where are mixed animistic, Christian and Muslim beliefs. At Papua Diving, we respect the Sabbath The weekly rest day for the staff is Saturday, and on this day the dive boats stay at the pontoon.

Preservation of nature

But Max Ammer is first and foremost an ardent defender of nature. He participates in several large-scale environmental projects in Raja Ampat, involving the local Papuan population, notably with the non-governmental organization Conservation International, within the Raja Ampat Research and Conservation Centre (RARCC).

Max Ammer on the dock at Sorido Bay Resort. Kri Island, Raja Ampat.
Max Ammer on the dock at Sorido Bay Resort. Kri Island, Raja Ampat.

On the subject of the incredible biodiversity of this wild archipelago, he is inexhaustible. He continues to be fascinated as a child by the wonders of nature that surround him, which makes him terribly sympathetic.

He has been living in Papua Indonesia for almost thirty years, with his family, founded there. On Kri Island, all human activity revolves mainly around the two Papua Diving resorts he created: first the Kri Eco Resort, in 1996, with its traditional wooden bungalows on stilts and dried palm leaves (photo below)then the most comfortable Sorido Bay Resort in 2004, where I had the chance to stay.

Everything is built with local materials, always with the aim of respecting the environment.

The Kri Eco Resort. Raja Ampat, Papua, Indonesia, March 2012.
The Kri Eco Resort. (Raja Ampat, Papua, Indonesia, March 2012)

On site, it employs about a hundred people, mostly Papuans, for the two resorts and the organization of the dives, as well as for the various programs of conservation, development, construction, eco-tourism...

Scientists and televisions

In Raja Ampat, Max Ammer is regularly visited by scientists and biologists, photographers and documentary filmmakers, and television crews from around the world.

Here is an excerpt from an excellent documentary for Arte, The coral paradise of Raja Ampat (2009, directed by Rolf J. Möltgen), which presents the work of several scientific teams. Max Ammer and Kri Island can be seen from 9 min. 30 sec. onwards.

Direct links on YouTube:
The Coral Paradise of Raja Ampat - Part 1
The coral paradise of Raja Ampat - Part 2 (at first, Max Ammer explains the fight against dynamite fishing)
The Coral Paradise of Raja Ampat - Part 3

One evening, Max tells me about the time they hosted, many years ago, the team of a guy from TV, whose name he can't remember well, but whom I must surely know, he says: "A guy from the French TV..." Ah, ah, ah! I'm laughing: "Nicolas Hulot? For Ushuaïa?" Right in the target.


I tell myself that I am lucky to have discovered Raja Ampat other than through the small screen. And to have met in flesh and blood the incredible Max Ammer. A man quite gifted, in his kind, for authentic "thrill" and "emotion" sequences.

Update 2020. TF1 devoted a report to Raja Ampat in its program 7 à 8. Broadcast a first time in January 2020, it is for the moment still visible on the site of the channel, at the end of the link below. We can see Max around the 18e minute:
These French people who live in Raja Ampat, the paradise for robinsons

Some links about Max Ammer

Papua Diving : about us
→ Max Ammer and Community-based Tourism at Papua Diving, Raja Ampat
Seeing Magnificent Raja Ampat from the Air

  Indonesia: Raja Ampat + Bali - March 2012

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  1. Hello !

    Ton article est excellent, il m’a permis de m’évader en ce dimanche matin pluvieux.
    Merci de nous faire partager tes aventures sous-marines et terrestres car elles nous permettent de patienter en attendant de pouvoir faire nos propres bulles l’été prochain.
    Sincerely, N.

  2. Corinne, merci pour cette présentation d’un grand homme. Ne pas arriver en terrain conquis et développer l’activité touristique de manière raisonné, pour faire vivre les populations locales et les sensibiliser à leur environnement, bravo à Max Ammer. Quant au docu d’Arte, je me suis émerveillée devant les raies mantas, les adorables hippocampes pygmés puis j’ai eu la nausée face à l’emprise du marché asiatique shark fining et autre pêche peu scrupuleuse…
    You had the chance to discover this coral paradise still preserved but for how long.
    En ce dimanche venteux et gris, merci pour cette bulle d’évasion colorée.

    1. @LiseMet: yes, a great man, this Max Ammer, and a sacred character ...

      Les chiffres du tourisme seraient de l’ordre de 5000 visiteurs par an. C’est encore peu, mais le projet d’aéroport sur Waigeo inspire bien des craintes. J’espère que les efforts des différents resorts sur place pour promouvoir un véritable “éco-tourisme” porteront leurs fruits.

      Quant à la pêche illégale et au shark finning, les pays asiatiques, premiers concernés, s’en émeuvent manifestement moins que les Occidentaux… Pas mal de gens, d’associations, d’ONG, se mobilisent, mais c’est, comme on dit, une goutte d’eau dans l’océan…

  3. j’ai dévoré ce reportage!
    tu as raison j’ai adoré, 😀
    j’ai déjà donné les liens à plusieurs amis biologistes et je vais les afficher sur mon site !!
    Thank you!!!! 🙂

  4. I'm a little more reserved than you on our friend Max
    Most :
    - mounted 2 ecological resorts, especially Kri, because Sorido with its clims ??
    - gave work to the local population (construction, resort staff and even dive master)
    - sensitized the local population and the authorities to the conservation of Raja Ampat biodiversity
    - introduced Raja Ampat to the world

    Le “gros” MOINS :
    – c’est un missionnaire de la secte des adventistes du xéme jour, qui a profité de son emprise économique pour imposer sa religion à toute la population locale

    D’autre part quand j’étais au Kri Eco Resort en 2009, il n’est venu nous voir qu’un seul soir sur 5 jours, préférant séjourner à Sorido et soigner ses clients VIP 😈
    Un autre fait amusant, quand Nicolas Hulot est venu à Palua Kri, un couple d’amis était sur place (faut que je retrouve la photo). Son équipe était venu 1 mois avant avec une quantité de matériel impressionnante (dont un hydravion en pièces détachées) pour préparer les 10 mn qui sont passées sur Ushuaïa. Si son équipe était logée au Kri Eco*, Nicolas logeait au Sorido 😆

    * : Eco means Ecological and not Economical 😆

    1. @Alimata: ah, mais je ne faisais pas l’apologie du bonhomme, je dressais plutôt un portrait du personnage, car c’en est un, pour sûr !!! Et je dois avouer qu’il est vraiment fascinant, même pour une mécréante comme moi.

      Il m’a raconté un peu le passage de Nicolas Hulot et de son équipe, visiblement, c’était épique… Merci pour les photos !!!!

      Il ne m’a pas converti à l’adventisme (déjà que je venais d’échapper à un groupe d’Américains mormons, qui étaient sur la croisière du Black Manta), mais les fonds de Raja Ampat m’ont, eux, totalement conquise. Du coup, j’y retourne… j’y serai demain !!! 😛
      (Je suis à Makassar, à l’heure où je te réponds…)

      Petite précision – après mon séjour de juillet 2012 : je constate, après mon second séjour (Max était absent ce coup-ci) que seulement une toute petite partie du personnel est adventiste, les autres s’en fichent un peu, et sont juste contents d’être en congé le samedi. Pour autant que je puisse en juger, la population sur les îles est majoritairement chrétienne (surtout des protestants), ce qui est un héritage des colons hollandais…

  5. Ouah, magnifique 🙂 Tout un personnage…C’est bien de voir des gens et des endroits comme ceux là…En tout cas ca a dû vraiment être une bonne expérience de le rencontrer ! Je vais penser à la Papouasie Nouvelle Guinée pour mes prochaines vacances 😉

    1. @Eric: Juste une petite précision, il ne s’agit pas ici de la Papouasie Nouvelle Guinée, mais de la Papouasie occidentale, qui est une région située en Indonésie. L’île est divisée en deux : à l’ouest l’Indonésie, à l’est la Papouasie Nouvelle Guinée (PNG). Max Ammer connaît aussi la PNG, mais il vit à Raja Ampat la plupart du temps, côté indonésien, donc.

      A sacred character, anyway, yes ...

    2. Oops, so much for me :p my geography of this region of the world is to be reviewed 😉 Thanks for the small precision in any case 8)

    1. @Anne: merci d’avoir laissé un petit message ! Oui, Max est un sacré personnage… 😉