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Komodo Islands 2013

written by Joey Pool – Perth Scuba Assistant Instructor

Part 1: Lee and I led a group of 18 divers to the beautiful Komodo Islands in Indonesia in May 2013. Komodo National Park is located in the center of the Indonesian archipelago, between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. Established in 1980, initially the main purpose of the Park was to conserve the unique Komodo dragon and its habitat. However, over the years, the goals for the Park expanded to protecting its entire biodiversity, both land and marine. In 1986, the Park was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO… And THIS is why divers travel far and wide to dive to this magnificent part of the world.

Our adventure started at the Benoa Pier in Bali where the vessel Mermaid II had pulled in to collect our adventure seeking crew. We were shown to our cabins that would be our home for the next 8 days and then given free run of the vessel to relax until we departed. After a delayed departure to replace a bung dynamo, we headed north-east up the coast overnight past Lombok to arrive at Moyo Island. We slipped into the water after lunch to dive Little Angel Reef to find massive elephant ears, barrel sponges and beautiful WARM water! The coral was gorgeous and gave our crew a glimpse of the brilliant diving they would experience in the days to come. Our first dive was over far too quickly and it was time to move onto our next location for our night dive – Satonda Reef.. This was an area of gently sloping sand – okay, it doesn’t sound very interesting, but it was! It was a riot of wildlife with dozens of lionfish trailing every photographers movements to use them as cover as they hunted – I’m sorry little fishies! Blue spotted rays feeding in the sand, schools of striped catfish darting quickly away, crabs weighed down with huge sponge formations and so much more. After we returned to the boat, it was time for an overnight steam to our next day’s destination, Gili Banta. This is where we headed in for our first dive with the currents that the Komodo Islands are so famous for. It was reef hook in hand, negative descents, and speedy legs that got us to the dive site where we hooked on and watched a riot of fish swim past. There were sharks, big Napoleon wrasse, schools of fusiliers, turtles and big colourful corals. After an exciting day of reef diving, it was off to Wainilu to for a night dive…

Wainilu really turned on the critter count where we found tiny octopus, zebra crabs, glass shrimp, flat worms, scorpion fish, and so many other critters I don’t even know their names! Then it was time to eat and fall in a heap before we were to arrive for our first land tour of the Komodo National Park the following morning in search of dragons…

Part 2: Early one morning the Perth Scuba Crew was delivered to Rinca Island in search of DRAGONS! The Komodo dragon is a large species of lizard found in the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, and Padar. The Komodo Dragon is listed as vulnerable and the Komodo National Park was set up mainly to protect them. With only 1008 dragons on Komodo and 1001 on Rinca, you can understand why it needs to be protected. It is the largest living species of lizard, growing to a maximum length of 3 metres in rare cases and weighing up to around 70 kilograms. And let me tell you – they look even BIGGER in real life!

The day we arrived at Rinca we were greeted by two monkeys sitting at the end of the jetty. They were very cute and didn’t seem to mind 18 people taking multiple photos of them – even more patient than a nudibranch! We were greeted by our guides, armed with very “scary” looking forked sticks that I’m sure were quite capable of stopping a Komodo Dragon from eating us… Yeah right! We then trekked off to the local village across a mud-flat covered in tiny red and blue crabs – no dragon’s yet… We were given a brief overview of the area by our guides who showed us the trail we’d be taking. He took one look at us and decided we were taking the short trail – wonder what he was trying to say!!!

After only a short 100 metre walk we were told to be quiet and move slowly – we’d stumbled across not just one but TWO Dragons!!! And they were happy to sit quietly together and let us take photos. Though we were warned to not separate from the group when taking photos, some of us may not of listened and wandered into better positions for photos. The Dragons looked longingly at some of our thigh bones and our guides  quickly moved us back into a huddle to protect us – no fair, an attack would’ve made a GREAT photo opportunity (for all except the person being attacked!). After taking LOTS of photos of a dragon that just wouldn’t stick its tongue out for a whole 10 minutes we moved on up the trail. Our guides explained to us that the big dragons – like we’d just seen – hunt the little dragons on the island and will eat them as well as the deer and other mammals that inhabit the island. Plus, although they’d never attacked a tourist… The guides weren’t willing to press their luck when moving around such a large creature that thinks anything warm blooded is YUMMY!

We continued our hike and went up a steep hill where we were shown a magnificent view of the bay where our boat home could be seen and the landscape and waters of the Komodo Islands surrounding. The Perth Scuba Crew remained up here for some time just admiring the beautiful sunny day and scenery before them. We all got millions of photos of each other, plus a couple of selfies and then headed back down the hill. Where we were greeted by ANOTHER dragon! Who was very lazily stretching himself in the sun, making sure that every square centimeter of his hide soaked up whatever warmth was available. Now this dragon was happily poking out its tongue so the photographers were much happier. After a short while the crew headed back down the hill and out across the mud flat to return to the vessel for more diving, thinking that was the end of our Dragon experience… THEN we were greeted by a little dragon (2 foot long) running across the mud flat towards us – eek! But never fear, he wasn’t running towards us, he was running away from the GIANT DRAGON that was trying to eat him – that was now running towards us – eek! This caused much excitement for us and our guides – our guides being worried we’d get eaten – and us being worried we wouldn’t get a good photo. Pffffft to safety!!! Let’s get a better photo!!!

After that excitement we departed Rinca Island and returned to Mermaid II to continue our diving adventure across the Komodo Islands. Our next stop, back to Wainilu to see what difference the light of day would make to this macro dive site…. To be continued

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