Diving and Dragons

Titan Triggerfish

Titan triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens)*

The islands of Komodo and Rinca are surrounded by some of the most turbulent waters in Indonesia with strong currents, whirlpools and rip tides providing nutrients to a wide variety of marine life. The coral too is reputedly remarkable, so we went to see for ourselves.  From Labuanbajo a group of us joined a dive boat for the day run by the Komodo Dive Centre. Their package included three dives, all equipment if required and plenty of refreshments.  Four dive masters between ten people were on hand!

The dive boat

The dive boat

The equipment

The equipment

Bob and Tom togging up

Bob and Tom togging up

After about an hour we reached Sebayur, our first dive site, a slope with stunning, undamaged hard and soft coral. The deep was teeming with fish and most notably we saw octopus, moray eel, black lion fish and anemone fish.

Lilac soft coral

Sea anemone – in fact pink though looks lilac

The photo above of the sea anemone (Heteractis magnifica) is pure pink on the outside but the red part of sunlight has been filtered out by the water.  Even at low depths this makes it seem more blueish, hence the lilac appearance.  Also in the photo are three pink skunk anemone fish, Amphiprion perideraion.  As with all anemone fish, the largest in a given anemone is the dominant female while all others are males.  If she dies, the largest males will change sex to become a fertile female.  The interpretation is that the production of eggs is much more energy intensive than that of sperm, hence it makes sense to have the largest animal being female!*

If that was a good introduction, the seamount dive at Batu Bolong which consists of two exposed rocks with current swirling either side was even better. At 20 metres we feasted on the sight of giant sweetlips, giant trevally, starry puffer fish and scorpion fish amongst vividly coloured coral. A white tipped shark swam by as did several green backed turtles. Then it was up to the surface for an obligatory break and lunch before the afternoon dive. Our total ‘bottom time’ amounted to about 2 hours, and in shorty wet suits, with an air temperature of 32 deg and sea temperature of 4 deg less, we had no complaints. But on resurfacing we felt chilly and a hot cup of coffee was most welcome!

Giant sweetlips

Giant sweetlips

Synchronised swimming - Diagonal banded sweetlips

Synchronised swimming – Diagonal banded sweetlips

Clown triggerfish

Clown triggerfish

Starry pufferfish

Porcupine fish

Scorpion fish

Scorpion fish

Tatawa saw us drift diving in about 4 kn current, and yet again we were treated to the magnificent underwater world that is fish and coral. Napoleon wrasse, a pretty lilac and yellow ribbon eel and orange soft coral were among the splendours.

Not since Bonaire in September 2010 have we experienced such fantastic diving with clear water, great visibility, and a prolific and astounding variety of colourful marine life. Komodo Dive Centre www.divingkomodo.net was professional, the dive boat well equipped, the dive masters knowledgeable and the crew friendly and helpful. We stepped from Pipistrelle on to the dive boat in the morning and returned absolutely exhilarated.

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* Note: Thanks and appreciation are due to our friend Oliver Straub for his contribution to the article above, for enhancing it with Latin names and providing accurate descriptions!

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Allowing ourselves a day or two to recover from our exertions, we had a four hour sail to our next highlight – Rinca Island and the anchorage of Loh Buaya to visit the Komodo National Park.

The anchorage (Pipistrelle centre)

The anchorage (Pipistrelle centre)

Park entrance

Park entrance

Next morning we met our guide at 0700 to take a trail in search of the famous Komodo Dragons. We did not have to look far; after all there are about 1100 of these creatures on the island. Essentially monitor lizards, they have a tapered head with powerful jaws and sharp teeth, a forked tongue, long neck, large body and long tail. Powerful legs allow them to cover short distances quickly.

Sniffing around (dragons have a very keen sense of smell)

Sniffing around (dragons have a very keen sense of smell)

On the prowl

On the prowl

Their main prey is water buffalo, deer and wild pig, all available on the island! To kill, dragons bite their victim, allowing the poisonous bacteria in their mouths to take effect extremely slowly – it can take up to two weeks for a water buffalo to die! As it has been known for humans to be attacked, we obviously kept our distance and the guide was armed with a forked staff to fend off any strays. Female dragons lay up to 30 eggs at a time, bury them in the ground and guard them for three months against predators including males! Eggs take nine months to hatch, and the majority of hatchlings are male. David Attenborough filmed here over 50 years ago when it was little known. The Dragons have changed little in the meantime we suspect, but today Rinca is far more accessible to visitors like us.

At one of the few watering holes

At one of the few watering holes

Hillside scene

Hillside scene

Female guarding her nest

Female guarding her nest

Young dragon

Young dragon

Our hike took us up to high ground with good views across to the anchorage and we were back on board at 1000, before it became too hot. Having met the German ketch ‘Sailaway’ there with Werner and Anna on board, who we had not seen since Opua in 2012, we decided to sail on with them and their friends Amigo to a bay on the west of Rinca where we spent a pleasant afternoon and evening.

The party

The party

Next morning we headed out again on a favourable current to take us to Ronco Bay, Northwest Komodo and where the scenery was again superb. Snorkelling beckoned but on the west of the bay, the coral was dead. Exploring further inshore we found the reef undamaged and dallied in the fascinating underwater world again.

Unfortunately, time pressure meant we had to weigh anchor after two nights here and sail towards Medana Bay on Lombok.

Grasses floating by

Grasses floating by

Above is a photo of Beach Spinifex Grass, found in sand dunes in Australia and Indonesia where it helps to stabilise the sand. Here the Rumput Lari – meaning ‘running grass’ in Bahasa Indonesian – had taken flight and landed near Pipistrelle where it was gently floating by. 

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