Komodo Magic

By Mark Heighes. Photos by Foued Kaddachi and Alex del Olmo.

There is lot to be said about diving in Komodo and believe me, a lot has been said lately, not all of it good. As marine tourism continues to boom throughout Indonesia we are experiencing increasing pressure on not only the top destinations but on many of the newly emerging areas as well. There has been talk about temporarily closing Loh Liang on the island of Komodo, and that has made International news recently. Nobody seemed to know any details, and there have been a lot of rumours flying around. But in my humble opinion it simply will not happen. Even if it does though, none of the rest of the Park or any of the dive sites will be affected.

Other issues such as management, overcrowding on some dive sites, diver impact, carrying capacity, fishing impact, increasing park fees, etc. have all been raised over the last few years. None of this however has had anything near the impact caused by the destructive fishing practices such as blast fishing that took place the past. When you take everything together that been thrown at Komodo National Park in the past few decades, you start to realize how incredibly resilient Komodo really is. The marine environment in the Park is actually in really good shape right now, and still producing some of the best diving that Indonesia has to offer . When I compare Komodo with all the marine life found at other destinations in Indonesia, I can’t think of anything that would be missing from Komodo, apart from perhaps Ambon’s famous Psychedelic Frog Fish and maybe Saltwater crocodiles…

We just spent 12 days in and around Komodo National Park with a small group of very experienced divers who have be joining us annually for the last 10 years. Most of the time was spent in the Wild South, avoiding the other boats. The diving wasn’t easy but we were generously rewarded for our efforts and had some of the most exciting dives of our lives. Working with a small group of very experienced divers with a keen sense of adventure, and the will to explore new sites, made it possible to visit places we normally would not attempt to dive with a regular group.

Yes it can be cold down south, windy and rough this time of year, but if you are prepared to grin and bear, it the diving can be very rewarding. The stars must have been in alignment for us on this trip, as we had the 3 most important variables in our favour, 1 Tidal Cycle, 2 Visibility, and 3 Surface Conditions. The relentless SW ground swell was almost non-existent for the first week. This enabled us to get to and dive on some of the most exposed areas. All we had to do was get the timing right.

We had great dives in various sites down in South Rinca, including at some old favourites and some new sites as well. Eagle rock was rocking and when we moved over to Manta Alley it was packed with mantas of all different sizes. We revisited a great dive on “The Dream”, which is a new site we found a few years ago, and it was great to see that all the big stuff was still there. The big bang on this trip happened on one particular site that I have been trying to get on for the past ten years. I could go on with a long detailed explanation but here’s what we experienced in the first 20 minutes of the first dive on this particular site.

After a bone chilling negative entry down into and through massive schools of banner fish and fusiliers we hit crystal clear and very cold water at 30 meters and below. There we were amazed to see we had a school of well over 40 huge hammerhead sharks all around us. These guys were bigger than I have ever seen schooling hammerheads, and that includes experiences from places such as Cocos, the Galapagos and the Banda Sea. Down to 40 meters and we saw a Mola Mola being cleaned, then a massive school of giant trevally. Next up was schools of sweetlips, more jacks, bonito, and then bump headed parrotfish swimming in mid water plus a couple big Napoleon wrasses checking us out. Next a big potato grouper, and to top it all off a big manta glided past. Never have we seen anything like all that on one single dive!

Needless to say we stayed for 3 days and continued to dive the same site at different tidal cycles. It’s not for everyone, but during this time we felt a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from wonder, adrenalin and excitement to anxiety, fear, relief, and a sense of our own mortality. Every single day of the 3 days we spent on the site had hammerheads and multiple Mola Mola, with one as shallow as 15 meters. On the one day we did not encounter Hammerheads underwater the whole school visited our crew who were waiting faithfully for us on the surface in the tenders while the divers were swimming around in the deep looking for them.

The crew explained later that 3 individuals were swimming just a few meters from the tenders with their dorsal fins out of the water. When the guys looked down into the blue they were terrified to see rest of the school swimming directly under the tenders in 2-3 meters of water. I have never seen schooling hammerheads on the surface but the water was particularly cold and I think that perhaps the sharks were sunning themselves on the surface trying to warm up.

I can’t believe we are still finding new mind blowing sites in Komodo. And there is something spiritual about having a glimpse every now and then, of the many secrets that mother Komodo still holds. Every once in a while she opens up and lets you in before closing the door and kicking you out until the next the time she is in a giving mood and feels like opening up her heart to us. Over the years we have learnt that if you treat her with respect and gratitude she will teach you the definition of beauty, show you her power, and sometimes let you experience her Komodo Magic.

Just like to thank the crew of the Seven Seas who were always there when it really counted on our explorations. You can rest assured that you are in good hands on the Seven Seas, and without them none of our adventures would have been possible. Without them on the surface we would have never attempted some of the locations we dived in the depths of Komodo’s Wild South.

Also a special thanks to our guests now known as “The Boys”, who continue to return, dive and discover new sites with us year after year. A small group of select divers dedicated to exploring the limits of inner space and bonded by the search for the beauty of nature at its best. See you all back here again next year!

Mark Heighes
Komodo, June 2019

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