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Komodo Islands
Revisited after 10 years, July 23-Aug 4 2009 Trip Report

Komodo Islands Dive Trip Report 2009

The Komodo National park Marine Sanctuary was established approximately 10 yrs ago to conserve the Komodo dragon and its surrounding biodiversity including the sea. The destructive fishing practices still exist at a minimum now. Blast Fishing is all but ended. I am proud of UNESCO, WWF the organizations and people that have made this Marine Park a success and a World Heritage Site! Namely Jos Pet and Mark Heighs who are partners in the Seven Seas, they worked diligently to bring Komodo diving to what she is today! A HUGE success! Here is a website to learn more: Jos worked for 12 years with the Nature Conservancy setting up and managing marine programs in Indonesia starting with Komodo National Park, he wrote the management plan for that, a colossal success! www.komodonationalpark.org

Komodo Islands Dive Trip Report 2009

We began our trip flying to Labuan Bajo where we boarded the beautiful vessel The Seven Seas, she is a well thought out dive boat, with 8 dbl or twin cabins for a maximum of 16 divers, a perfect number. Mark Heighs our cruise director is top in his field and has spent the last 25 yrs in Komodo, there is no one with more hands on experience that Mark in this area. Komodo well known for changeable currents and tides; house the islands of Komodo, Rinca & Padar as they straddle the borders of the Indian Ocean and the Flores Sea. This area has upwelling currents and at times some wild tide changes which create a home for some of the richest most diverse marine life in Indonesia. Indonesia is the epi-center of where life began; it has the most marine species in the world up to 3000 and the most species of hard coral in the world up to 400. Indonesia also holds one quarter of the world's hard coral.

Many of us divers who have been diving all over Indonesia now for about 15 yrs have decided to head back to Komodo Islands to see what delights a marine sanctuary for 10yrs could offer. It was the most remarkable experience to see for ourselves the results and huge effort these individuals accomplished to save this bio-diverse area. I take my hat off to you!

Komodo Islands Dive Trip Report 2009Our diving began the day we arrived, as Labuanbajo is only about a 3 to 4 hr steam to the northern most islands of Komodo. Sebaya Kecil then onto one of our favorite dives in the north Komodo region, Castle Rock. Here we realized Komodo had changed, fish everywhere! Giant Trevally's, OMG they were huge and dark and scarred up and very close! Sharks!!!!!!!!!!! How is this possible? Sharks have been all but finned out of Indonesia, and here they were, beautiful black tip, white tip and Gray reef sharks, unreal. Large schools of fusiliers, two different types to boot, simply everywhere! I love this place such a fishy busy place. Then diving at a nearby site called Crystal Rock, again a very fishy spot this left us feeling deeply relaxed and peaceful with happy fish all over, a lovely thing to see.

A fun dive we had at Golden Passage, very colorful rocks with hard and soft coral again more Giant Trevally's G.T.'s is what we called them now, heaps of anemones with every kind of clown fish & shrimps, simply tons of life here…. Then a planned big drift into the current that lasted about 10 to 15 min flying like superman and watching all the sites along this passage, what a blast! This was so much fun!!

A spectacular place in a nearby passage north is called FISH BOWL, my goodness, what a place! Again just chock full of fish, this is where we had some currents to deal with and we could choose where to dive. Went back here as there are about 3 or 4 dives sites in this passage including Fish Bowl, we found the wild current on this dive. Mama mia, I knew we were in for it when we had to do a crab crawl along the bottom of the channel to get to the other side. Personally I love this stuff, however not everyone will agree with me. This was a blast, Tommy our wonderful dive guide herded us in this little cove and made us sit and stay,,,, yeah right. He gathered all his little chicks and big camera housings and we hung out. Little by little divers left and went sweeping over the wall, after we crawled up to see all the millions of fish in the fish bowl faced into the current. What a site! Heaps of big G.T.'s hanging like statues, all the surgeons and tunas, Maori wrasse and who knows what else faced into the current in this bowl. Off Susan and I went holding hands on the magic carpet ride, what a blast,,, doing our 20ft safety stop flying by and LOOK a Manta Ray, how cool is that! We headed to the side of the channel and it came to almost a complete stop, who would know! We made are way back to everyone on the side as though nothing happened, hahaha! Too much fun.

Komodo Islands Dive Trip Report 2009Diving in the north Komodo Islands in warm water temps 82, clear great vis, and chock FULL of fish and marine life big and small and SHARKS! Tatawa Basar is an extraordinary site, FULL of color soft & hard corals, sponges. I found a beautiful juvenile bat fish trimmed in orange. I slowly herded him in the mouth of this big cave for Dieter to photograph. I took my big light as my camera committed suicide, and looked inside the big cave OH MY GOD, 4 huge black spotted black sweetlips, and in the back a GIANT grouper, I have never seen such a monster, this cave was magic! Same dive we had 3 cuttle fish laying eggs, several of us watched quietly as they took turns laying eggs in branching hard coral, what a beautiful site, they did not mind us there and carried on laying eggs. A thrill to watch as they ready themselves to do this and one certain 'leg' is the one that shoots the egg into the depth of the coral, wild. Fantastic Behavior!

Komodo Islands Dive Trip Report 2009Next came our visit early am with the Komodo Dragons, since I was last there they have improved the visitor center and a place where the locals can sell the pearls they grow there. We had a lovely walk and found one smaller dragon and one huge dragon. Went for a dive to Pink Beach just outside the bay to the Dragons; the water temp now much cooler as we head south, temps ranging now from 73 to 74. Time for the vest and hood, and burning some calories, yeah! Here we found my favorite orangutan crab on bubble coral, lots of fish here also.

Time to move to the most southern part of Komodo,, Manta Alley, we did 3 dives here all day and we had MANTAS!! Mantas love it here at this time of year, they are aggregating, we had some current and they love it, tons of mantas, getting cleaned and again tons of fish all over! Our second dive here was off the planet, as soon as we got in we sat on the bottom not moving and within 5 min, looked up and we had 10 mantas fly over in pairs, we counted 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 like a squadron of fighter pilots….. what a sight to see! As we carried on we saw these mantas all over the place it was a remarkable dive! The vis is lower here, but worth all the excitement!

Next stop, Horse Shoe Bay, last time here with my mate Larry Smith; I had melancholy thoughts as my good buddy is no longer with us, still difficult to believe. Started out at Boulders, such a colorful spot, crinoids of every color, every pattern, everywhere, all lined up on fans and also behaving weirdly. Moving around and doing odd things with their legs, I have never seen this before, you forget sometimes they are animals as they just sit there normally very odd here for sure. SEA APPLES also are here, oh so exciting for me to see them again, they are sooooo gorgeous, all trimmed out in deep burgundy red, dark navy blue and yellow beading in stripes down the side, I love these things, they look like a fancy hat!! Some are feeding with all the tentacles out and some part way in, they all have a different look, they are the craziest things! They are holothurians in the sea cumber family, they win the prize as the most glamorous.

Komodo Islands Dive Trip Report 2009Ahhhhh Canibal Rock, does not get much better than this place. So much life, all on one rock, you name it; it is here, every color under the rainbow, soft corals, fish life, crinoids. A giant Pink frog fish of all colors ;-}, a melting pot of life, whatever you want to see, you will most likely see it here. I could dive this site for a week straight. Back at torpedo a great dive with juvenile blue ribbon eel in black with yellow stripe, 2 HUGE black Frog Fish in a green tubastrea hard coral. Then Tommy our hero found us a pale pink Alphonse Rhinopias! I have never seen this variety only the lacey ones, looked a big naked to me.

Spent 2 days here in Horse shoe bay and we had our very own Komodo Dragons on the beach all day long! We got very friendly with them and went to visit and walk with them regularly, kind of wild when you see one then another comes running in that funny dragon way and then low and behold a BIG one comes a running at us ,,,,,, hmmmmmm where is that stick?

We then headed out far north and west (out of Komodo park) to Sangeang, a volcano with wild stuff, dive site called Tiny Bubbles, amazing to dive in, black sand and streams of bubbles coming out of the sand, lovely. This is a beautiful site and one of my top favorites of the trip, clear warm water, 5 bargi banti (pygmy seahorse) on sea fan we could even see them! The shallows here were the most exquisite to see, sun rays streaming down on pillars of rock that looked like spires, surgeon fishes in a tight group all feeding and moving the same, thousands of colorful anthias playing in the sun, jumping off the rock in unison. I must have stayed in this magic spot for at least 20 minutes, in the shallows it was like being in a brightly lit colorful cathedral, peaceful serenity enveloping the senses. This was another 5 * dive in my logbook!

Back in KNP at Crystal, lovely vis, clear blue water, loads of fish, we saw many different juvenile sweet lips of several species, they are stunning! The fish all gather in the current and put on a lovely display, giant sweetlips, surgeon fishes, a plethora of color and life here.

Komodo Islands Dive Trip Report 2009Komodo Islands Dive Trip Report 2009Our last day of diving was sad however IT ROCKED! Castle Rock has to be the TOP favorite hands down dive site of this trip! Mark must have known that finally (I think our 3rd dive here) we got the current just right, and BAM! FISH EVERYWHERE! I mean everywhere; this was the most amazing fish dive on the planet. No current and yet the fish WERE ALL OVER by the thousands. He wanted us to stay in 2 groups to not scatter the fish, so we tried and it did not matter. It was one of those special times when I all clicked. We all were hypnotized by the sheer numbers surrounding us, swimming among us without a care. There were two different types of fusiliers as though they were on a rush hour freeway. G.T's everywhere swimming between us, over us very close and not bothered at all by our presence. We barely swam; we sort of floated in a trance being 'one with the fish'. Tunas & jacks bountiful, many species of giant sweet lips, sharks off the edges black tips, white tips and a couple of gray reef. I cannot think of all the fish types there were just so many, a truly magnificent dive and we are still there on that dive. When I feel stressed and need to duck out for a bit, that is where I go!

Not finished yet! Tatawa Kacil, is 'Valeries Rock' it used to be my favorite (years ago) before Burt & Maureen found Horseshoe bay. It did not disappoint! This is a stunning place with layers of plate coral starting at the surface, in clear sparkly water! IMAX filmed this spot for the latest Reef movie, now I know why. There is a huge abundance of fish in with the hard plate corals. Lots of overhangs and swim throughs, large schools of batfish, reef fish, color and more color. A real stunner!

Last but not least, Tangah Rock, another 5 star dive, making our way to Labuanbajo. Lets see, an eagle ray, Giant G.T's, 2 mobula mantas, clear water with gorgeous coral, bouncing anthias and sergeant majors near the surface, tinkling fish all over ahhhhhhhhh….. the end.

Komodo Photo Gallery by Jason Marks

Very sad to leave Komodo, it gave me hope and filled my spirit with joy! We all felt the same, a re-energizing for our marine environment. With like-minded people and a huge desire, we can slowly turn destruction of our reefs and oceans around. Thank You Jos Pet and Mark Heighs and all the others that have contributed to a hugely successful Komodo National Park. Such a lovely feeling to know what man can destroy, man can rebuild!

Thanks to a wonderful group of divers, we all had a ball, old friends and new. A joyful crew a lovely boat, and fantastic diving. Life is good!

-- Cindi LaRaia

Komodo Islands Dive Trip Report 2009