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 !

    Your article is excellent, it allowed me to escape on this rainy Sunday morning.
    Thank you for sharing your underwater and land adventures with us, as they keep us waiting until we can make our own bubbles next summer.
    Sincerely, N.

  2. Corinne, thank you for this introduction to a great man. Max Ammer is to be congratulated for not arriving on conquered territory and for developing tourism in a sensible way, in order to provide a livelihood for local populations and make them more aware of their environment. As for the Arte documentary, I marveled at the manta rays and the adorable pygmy seahorses, then felt nauseous at the grip of the Asian shark finning market and other unscrupulous fishing...
    You had the chance to discover this coral paradise still preserved but for how long.
    On this windy, gray Sunday, thank you for this colorful bubble of escape.

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

      Tourism figures are in the region of 5,000 visitors per year. It's still not much, but the airport project on Waigeo is a cause for concern. I hope that the efforts of the various local resorts to promote genuine "eco-tourism" will bear fruit.

      As for illegal fishing and shark finning, Asian countries, the first to be affected, are clearly less concerned than Westerners... Quite a few people, associations and NGOs are mobilizing, but it's, as they say, a drop in the ocean...

  3. I devoured this report!
    you're right, I loved it 😀
    I've already given the links to several biologist friends and I'm going to post them on my 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

    The "big" MINUS:
    - he was a missionary of the xeme-day adventist sect, who took advantage of his economic clout to impose his religion on the entire local population.

    On the other hand, when I was at the Kri Eco Resort in 2009, he only came to see us one evening out of 5 days, preferring to stay at Sorido and look after his VIP clients 😈
    Another fun fact: when Nicolas Hulot came to Palua Kri, a couple of friends were there (I'll have to find the photo). His team had come 1 month before with an impressive quantity of equipment (including a seaplane in parts) to prepare the 10 minutes that were spent on Ushuaïa. While his team stayed at the Kri Eco*, Nicolas stayed at the Sorido 😆

    * : Eco means Ecological and not Economical 😆

    1. @Alimata: ah, but I wasn't making an apology for the man, I was rather drawing a portrait of the character, because he is one, for sure!!!! And I must admit that he's really fascinating, even for a miscreant like me.

      He told me a little about Nicolas Hulot and his team's visit, which was obviously epic... Thanks for the photos !!!!

      It didn't convert me to Adventism (I'd already escaped a group of American Mormons who were on the Black Manta cruise), but the Raja Ampat backdrops totally won me over. So, I'm going back... I'll be there tomorrow!!!! 😛
      (I'm in Makassar as I write this...)

      A little clarification - after my stay in July 2012: I notice, after my second stay (Max was absent this time) that only a tiny proportion of the staff are Adventists, the others don't really care, and are just happy to be off on Saturdays. As far as I can tell, the population on the islands is predominantly Christian (mostly Protestant), which is a legacy of the Dutch settlers...

  5. Wow, beautiful 🙂 Quite a character...It's nice to see people and places like that...Anyway it must have been a really good experience to meet him! I'll be thinking about Papua New Guinea for my next vacation 😉

    1. @Eric: Just a point of clarification, we're not talking about Papua New Guinea here, but West Papua, which is a region located in Indonesia. The island is divided in two: Indonesia to the west, Papua New Guinea (PNG) to the east. Max Ammer also knows PNG, but he lives in Raja Ampat most of the time, on the Indonesian side.

      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: thanks for leaving a little message! Yes, Max is quite a character... 😉