The Dragon’s Lair

Link to Photo Gallery Note: Only a few of the images appear within the text – click here for the full gallery at large high resolution in new tab window.

Imagine a trip to remote Komodo Islands, home to the living dinosaur, the Komodo Dragon, “Varanus komodoenis.

Well organized by Geoff Skennar of Always Dive Travel, Melbourne, our band of aquatic adventurers met up at Kuta Beach, near Bali airport, after arriving from all points of the compass. We spent a relaxing day learning to surf long boards, thirsty work.

It looks like a pirate ship, at anchor off the National Park.
It looks like a pirate ship, at anchor off the National Park.

The next morning we were off in a prop plane to an airport in the remote Flores Group of north west Indonesia. Geoff had chartered the “Felicia” which was Captained by a generally affable German, and crewed by a delightful bunch of mainly Flores Islander fellows who not only were excellent dive guides, but also fantastic cooks. One night they turned on a magnificent barbeque ashore, where we watched the stars, before negotiating our way out thru the coral reef at low tide. Accommodations were adequate, and among the deck gear were plenty of spaces to stretch out and relax on in between dives. We were joined by our Dentist buddy from the US, who took the prize for shopping. Unfortunately Geoff was sick during the trip, we thought he had swine flu, and kindly gave it to everyone else; recall this was during the Australian epidemic of 2009. Still he soldiered on, and did most dives with us…don’t know how he did it; he was well doctored especially with my ginger herbal tea, a universal cure-all.

Our vessel was a Sulawesi Schooner, locally built from local timbers, and actually capable of sailing. Interesting craft that ply these waters; this design is common among the dive operators. Sailors will note that it is really a ketch, and more correctly described as a gaff topsail ketch. The “Felicia” and its smaller sister ship the “Feli” are two charter dive boats operated by our Captain. He was an obliging fellow, did us a good rate for the trip, and when it came to balancing up at the end, did include hire gear at no charge. I would go with him again, and would also be keen to get the ship a’sailing.

A blue water day.
A blue water day.

On this trip I was coming to grips with my new (at that time) Nikon D80, with 105 lens, and a variable Nikon lens, behind an Ikelite dome port. I still can’t get the ring focus which engages teeth in the cogs to work right. Can any of the readers offer suggestions? Undeterred, I shot mainly macro and some wide angle, and also include some images taken by my dive buddies Matthew and Andrew with their permission.

Coral trout, or Coral Grouper, "Cephalopholis miniata"
Coral trout, or Coral Grouper, “Cephalopholis miniata”

The Flores Islands are dry low-lying volcanic  islands, and the seas at that time of the year are calm every day. Water clarity was variable as you will notice on the photos; there was often much plankton in the waters so that some back scatter was encountered; this is reflective of the sheer richness of the underwater environment in the Flores Sea. A word or two on the Komodo National Park. It is located within the Lesser Sunda Islands in the border region between the provinces of East Nusa Tenggara and West Nusa Tenggara, and has total area of 1,733 km2. The National Park was founded in 1980, and in 1991 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area has a hot dry climate, with annual maximum rainfall about 1000 mm.

One of the highlights was a visit to Komodo Island, where earlier in the day we had seen the Dragons walking by the beach. They don’t mind wolfing down whole chickens, though their main prey is the local Timor Deer. We were we escorted by our Guides through the Komodo National Park, enjoying the birdlife, and seeing local deer, warthogs covered in mud, and of course the Dragons. Thanks to Andrew Baldy for permission to post these images of the Dragons taken with his supadupa telephoto lens. The dragons inhabit only the islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores and Gili Motang in Indonesia. There is less diversity in the terrestrial creatures, than in the surrounding seas.

Despite the mandate for the Park there is continued tension between fishermen and the requirements of a nature reserve. For aquarium fish collection a technique of fishing with cyanide injected into the reef is used; and, the illegal fishermen use bombs with fertilizer and kerosene mixed in beer bottles–all contrary to the objectives of conservation.

We dived the main named sites, including Castle Rock, Komodo Bazaar, Dadawa Island, Batubolong, Cannibal Rock, and also were fortunate to see Mantas on a number of Manta Dives.

Blue-girdled Angelfish, adult.
Blue-girdled Angelfish, adult.

There is incredibly rich invertebrate life, and a stunning array of colour, which was for me the highlight of Komodo Diving. The Komodo National Park includes one of the world’s richest marine environments, consisting of over 260 species of coral, sponges (70 species), ascidians, marine worms, mollusks, echinoderms, crustaceans, cartilaginous and bony fishes (over 1,000 species), marine reptiles and marine mammals (dolphins, whales, and dugongs).The Nudibranch population seemed sparse, and the fish life mainly smaller colourful reef fish. Although this is a large marine park, the locals still fish there which must take its toll, so there are few plate sized fish available; note in the sunset shots the local fishing boat-platforms. Please enjoy the gallery which shows a diversity of anemones, crinoids, soft corals, fans, hard corals, holothurians, ascidians, nudibranchs, and flatworms…they are all there; when doing macro photography at Komodo you hardly have to move along the reef for many, diverse, and colourful subjects. Where possible I have identified, or at least got as close to the true identification as I could; please feel free to comment.

Common Lionfish, probably young adult, "Pterosis volitans".
Common Lionfish, probably young adult, “Pterosis volitans”.

On this post I will keep the story and commentary to a minimum, as the images tell the story. I loved Komodo and would like to believe it will remain pristine.  I will be going back, and next time with a full complement of my new cameras. Probably great for close focus wide-angle. There is so much there, photographers will never want to leave the water.

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