Our director, Max Ammer, wouldn’t think writing a post about him would be a brilliant idea because it is never about him, but always about God and others. No matter how busy he is, and even if he only slept for four hours, he will dedicate full attention and time to the person in front of him, like there was nothing more important in the whole world, until he gets a smile from his/her interlocutor.
His humble and soft-hearted personality is rare in people who accomplished so many successes as he did. He would say that everything good he got, it was by God’s grace, as a devoted Christian who can’t hold his tears every time he listens to a story about someone coming to know Jesus. He often says that Papua Diving is owned by the Lord.
Juggling patience, a funny personality and inspiration to make everyone around him works harder every day, Max could build a leading brand, offer hundreds of jobs and manage dozens of conservation and education projects simultaneously.
The former mechanic of Harley Davidsons and classic bikes from the WWII first came to Raja Ampat following his passion for the WWII’s history and to find ship and aircraft wrecks that no one else has seen before. Since then, with the help of the local people, the former commando has discovered many wrecks and even remains of crew members, allowing their families to give these men a final resting place.
One day, while camping, he heard someone walking around his tent. At first, he thought the person wanted to steal something and he was ready to defend himself when the person started opening the tent zipper. It turned out to be a young girl with a pineapple, which she wanted to put inside the tent as a gift. Max followed the child to her house to thank her family. It was a simple hut on the beach, and he couldn’t see that they had anything edible. It was this genuine generosity that made Max stay 31 years ago.
Soon, he realised that there was no industry in Raja Ampat, so the logical choice was to go for the nature travel business. He immediately visited a village and explained his plan, asking who would be willing to join, and there were more hands raised than the people he could hire.
Bearing in mind that an eco-resort would be the best solution to work with the locals and protect the environment, Max designed an iconic stand never seen with plants and local artefacts and impressed the public in a dive show. His plan was to build a resort if he could get three sets of guests, but he solve two years’ worth of guests in the show. He rushed back to the island and build the resort. “I was walking out the back door with the building team as the guests walked in the front!” he remembered.
Who could imagine that the man who didn’t enjoy diving in the special forces in 1982 would become a legend in the diving world in Raja Ampat? He was the first to build a diving eco-resort in Raja Ampat, and he named many of the diving sites in the area. Until today, many politicians, NGOs, journalists and community leaders look for Max first when they need something related to the archipelago.
By choosing to work with the locals, Max knew he would lose much money and time because it would be cheaper and quicker to hire people from other provinces instead of training Papuans to become dive guides, but his goal was empowering the locals and by doing so, protect the nature. In fact, many of his employees previously worked as loggers, shark fin fishermen and poachers due to little or no access to education.
Max often tells a story with the same enthusiasm as he was telling it for the first time: once he met a man who tried to sell him two turtles to send his daughter to school, and Max bought them. After that, he flipped the first turtle over the side of the canoe and the seller immediately jumped in the water to try to catch it again. Max then did the same with the second turtle and swam away. The fisherman was confused, and Max just told him: “I like turtles”. Later, the fisherman became the first dive guide to work with Max.
Another interesting fact about this man described as “a modern day Robinson Crusoe” by the newspaper Indonesia Expat, is that he grew up in Nigeria surrendered by birds, crocodiles, chimpanzees, etc. in an animal refugee farm ran by his parents, so he developed his love and care for nature since an early age.
Max has been introducing conservation and community-related projects in Raja Ampat since Papua Diving was founded in 1993, many years before anyone else made that effort. He was already teaching the local people even before Raja Ampat became an independent legal administrative area. Read more about our projects under “Projects”.
As a visionary and an idealist with a specific mission, he is always positive and original in his approaches and ideas to change the world. In his mind, everything is so clear that sometimes it is hard for him to realise that others can’t get his idea as quickly as it is in his brilliant mind.
In his legacy, there is Papua Diving, the RARCC, Kayak4Conservation, Frontier Aviation (in partnership with other volunteers), an education center for children and many lives changed and families supported, besides healthier reefs.
He has been teaching Papuans in many areas and, after their time with Max, some have already started their own businesses or became pilots or mechanics. There is no better teacher than the one who creates a school and takes the time to teach others no matter how many hours a lesson requires to be understood, and Max did both.
“Trust in the Lord”, he often suggests with a big smile when he faces challenges. Indeed, his life has been reflecting that trust. He survived a serious motorcycle accident and even a plane crash, with only his seat left intact.