The Underwater Topography And Marine Life In The Komodo National Park

Seasoned dive photo journalist Al Hornsby is left entranced by the underwater topography and marine life in the Komodo National Park, not to mention the fabled dragons.

I’m sitting on a grass-covered ledge high up a rocky prominence on the small, hourglass-shaped island of Gili Lawa Laut. A brief climb up a ridge from the curving, white-sand beach below has brought me to a view that is nothing short of remarkable. With a golden sun setting over my shoulder, the softly-lit, pale blue sea in front of me stretches away to merge near-seamlessly with the cloudless sky, creating a strange and lovely panorama, with a scattering of small, jutting islets appearing to float somewhere between the two. The larger mass of Komodo Island forms a darker backdrop in the distance. It’s a quiet, utterly exotic scene.

ndo Aug 2013  Copyright Al Hornsby 5810 Gili Lawa Laut
ndo Aug 2013 Copyright Al Hornsby 5810 Gili Lawa Laut

At this point, we’re in the midst of our sail, aboard the 30-metre-long, two-masted Indonesian Phinisi schooner Moana, from Labuhan Bajo, Flores through the heart of the Komodo Islands National Park. We’re heading steadily southward, where we’ll soon trade the sparklingly-clear, warm waters of the north for the cool, life-filled waters around the island of Rinca, and, oh yeah, its wandering hordes of Komodo dragons.Advertisements

The trip through the Komodos  can only be described as incredible… with the  unspoiled, natural beauty of the rough, mountainous islands rising from the sea, and the raucous wonderland of the sprawling, teeming reefs and spires just below the surface.

Throw in the quiet comfort of a huge, traditionally-styled, sailing schooner like the Moana, with evenings spent under a blaze of stars like can only be seen in the world’s truly remote regions, and you have an overall experience that most people have never even imagined. (Yes, I utterly enjoyed my time in the Komodos.)

The Komodo National Park
The Komodo National Park

But, as memorable as my sunset atop Gili Lawa Laut had been, it was actually the dive just before heading to the beach that remains one of the highlights of the trip for me. Just a few kilometres off the island, the tip of a rocky spire just breaks the surface of the (very clear and blue, here) sea, a site called Castle Rock, known for massive schools of fish and cruising sharks in the currents off its outer, drop-off edge. It’s an exciting, high-velocity dive experience, with something happening every moment.

However, the smaller spire just to the south-west was even more amazing – the spot I’m to describe.Jutting up to near the surface just a short swim from Castle, Crystal Rock is a more current-protected dive, with a complex, rambling seascape. In ultra-clear water, we descended down behind its calm southwest side and passed through swarms of bannerfish, eye-striped surgeonfish and humpback snapper toward a second, submerged pinnacle.

Indo Aug 2013 0438 Ribbon Sweetlips Copyright Al Hornsby 2013
Indo Aug 2013 0438 Ribbon Sweetlips Copyright Al Hornsby 2013

At 25m, we found a wonderland of coral prominences and large boulders utterly covered in brilliant, orange soft corals, red gorgonian fans and rust-coloured barrel sponges. Schooling ribbon sweetlips were everywhere, and pinnate and golden spadefish meandered about, all adding their own bright hues to the mix. For our safety stop, we ascended back to the main pinnacle’s quiet shallows, the rock’s face coated with orange and yellow cup corals and low, soft corals.

There, we delightedly watched as giant trevally and huge, metre-long African pompano made repeated strikes at smaller fish, feeding all around us.

Indo Aug 2013 0302 African Pompano Copyright Al Hornsby 2013 copy

After a number of dives on the many sites in this area, we continued south toward Rinca Island, in the centre of Komodo’s cool-water – 22 degrees C – diving region (a 5mm full suit was adequate for me, though some dressed more warmly, especially when usually getting four dives a day). Our first dive there was an early-morning one, at a famous site – Manta Alley. Just off a rocky islet, a slanting, coral slope forms a shallow ridge that reaches the sand at about 18m.

The ridge swarms with butterflyfish and wrasse, creating a large manta-cleaning station. As we settled in around the spot, right on cue, mantas began sweeping in, usually three or four at a time, working their magic on all of us. All too quickly, air and time spent, we headed up to the shallows for a safety stop, seeing many different fish and a number of blue-spotted rays, along with mantas continuing to pass closely overhead.AdvertisementsAdvertisements