It works from Bali, 160 mls to the west, but the journey to and from Komodo is punctuated by dive sites that are fascinating in their own right, and serve as a build-up to the world-class diving at Komodo and its neighbouring island, Rinca. My host was the boat’s co-owner, Tony Rhodes, a Brit with a simple manner and a knack for spotting near-microscopic pets.
Komodo National Park includes the seas around the islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar, plus some smaller islands. It’s a two-wetsuit trip: on the north side of the island destinations, water is warm, and most people dive comfortably with the thinnest of skins. Cool, nutrient-rich upwellings prevail on the the southern part of side, where 5mm suits, hoods and gloves are the order of the day.
These islands act like a dam, holding back the warmer Pacific waters, that are then forced through various straits, creating a pressure void along the park’s southern side. This allows cold water from the Sumba Sea to increase up, effectively replacing water removed by the currents at the surface. With the cold water comes a bloom in phytoplankton, forming the basis of komodo rinca tour super-charged food chain. It is a very, very special place indeed.
The results of these crazy upwellings best experienced at Horseshoe Bay on Rinca’s southern side. These are the most crowded reefs I have ever seen, but the payoff is low awareness caused by all of the vitamins suspended in the water. Horseshoe Bay’s famous site is a pinnacle known as Cannibal Rock (named after a monstrous Komodo dragon seen eating one of its own kind nearby), where dense swathes of black, yellow and red crinoids jostle for room.
Providing a contrast to Komodo’s macro dives is a great manta site from the island of Langkoi, a fastpaced little channel where the graceful rays can be seen feeding on plankton-loaded water. Langkoi’s mantas are among the biggest I use ever seen, some even approaching the renowned 6m mark.
It was a pleasure to distribute with the hood and gloves when our vessel Kararu returned to the balmy sites of the north. Here, I had been offered with dizzyingly clear normal water and some classically beautiful reefs. There were lots of reef fish, but I saw little in the blue, despite the preternatural clarity of water. From time to time, schools of barracuda, jacks or bannerfish would appear, but there were no sharks or tuna. This is the case across much of these islands, where shark-finning has decimated saltwater shark populations in the last ten years. Illegal shark fishing and even dynamite bombing still takes place in Komodo National Park, despite its protected status.
Still, conservation efforts at Komodo – reinforced by the existence of tourism – have succeeded in preserving vast tracts of reef. These kinds of reefs have an additional importance which transcends the pleasure they give all scuba divers. The coral here is especially resilient to the effects of coral bleaching caused by factors such as global warming and El Ni? o. This particular is due to the upwelling a result of cooling normal water from the depths of the Sumba Sea.
Marine biologists think that as coral reef systems continue to be lost, it is places such as Komodo that will replenish and re-colonize devastated habitats in other places in Indonesia and the wider Indo-Pacific. The same currents which make life so difficult (if entertaining) for divers, carry coral reefs larvae beyond the national park to places that saltwater space is available. In this sense, Komodo is a mother among coral reefs, and one we should all cherish.