Komodo National Park has been a long-time check box on my bucket list for two main reasons: dragons and diving! The opportunity to hang out with the legendary giant lizards, the Komodo dragons, and the opportunity to dive on pristine reefs, possibly with manta-rays…
…and it lived up to expectations! We got up close and personal with some of Komodo’s “megafauna” during our recent visit.
Fishermen and pearl divers used to bring back stories of ferocious lizards with enormous claws, fearsome teeth and fiery yellow tongues … and in May this year a tourist was mauled by a dragon when he got too close! So I was a little nervous when we ventured ashore for our early morning guided tour. Walking from the dinghy dock to the ranger station, we immediately spotted two dragons, slowly ambling along the path. We gave them a wide berth and proceeded to the ticket office.
There we linked up with our guide Agus and for the next two hours we trekked through the savannah and forest of Rinca Island. We only saw a couple of dragons along the way, including a female protecting a nest of eggs, but we also saw plenty of dragon food: water buffalo, deer, wild pigs and monkeys. Dragons bite their prey, usually ambushing them while they drink at waterholes. The bites go septic and eventually the animal dies, then the dragons feast. They only need to eat about once a month, but can eat up to 80% of their body weight when they do!
Our trek finished up back at the ranger station, where lots of dragons were hanging out due to the proximity of the kitchen.
Komodo National Park’s spectacular marine biodiversity is due to the nutrient-rich currents that flow between the Flores Sea (fed by the Pacific Ocean) and the Savu Sea (fed by the Indian Ocean). These currents can be extremely hectic (as we discovered when we tried to sail out of the NP and were basically stopped dead in our tracks, but that’s another story), so it’s not recommend to dive without an operator, lest you get swept away! Labuan Bajo is spoiled for choice, with dozens of dive shops taking trips out to the national park. After a recommendation from other rally participants, we went with Uber Scuba and they were fabulous. Extremely professional and knowledgeable.
Our first dive of the day was at Makassar Reef, AKA Manta Point. It’s a little early in manta season, but as we were approaching full moon, we had a good chance of diving with these graceful but enormous creatures. We were lucky to also have on board a manta expert. Michelle works for Marine Megafauna Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation raising money to undertake research and conservation projects, and she gave us a brief about mantas and the research she is doing. There are two types of mantas: reef mantas and ocean mantas. The mantas spotted around Komodo are usually reef mantas.
Then it was time to take the plunge. We giant-strided from the boat into the swift current and drifted over Makassar Reef. Almost immediately we saw a manta: a 3.5m female black manta alfredi (reef manta). She was hanging out in the cleaning station and didn’t seem disturbed by our presence as we clung to reef rubble to have a few precious moments with her. We ended up seeing six mantas during our dive – hanging out in cleaning stations or cruising around. It was awesome.
We also dived Batu Bolong and Police Point, and some of the other underwater megafauna we encountered were hawksbill turtles, reef sharks and a bamboo shark. I saw a blue ribbon eel for the first time (but unfortunately my camera housing flooded so I was able to get any decent pics.)
One of the MMF projects is “MantaMatcher”, a website which uses citizen science to report manta sightings to assist in manta research and raise money for their conservation. Through MantaMatcher, Michelle identified the female black manta that we saw as INKNP0735A. She was first seen in 2015 and has been seen eight times since. In addition to her unique belly spots (which are like a manta’s fingerprints), she also has a very short tail. One of the fundraising methods is through manta “adoption”. We are planning to adopt her which means we get to name her and I’ll receive an email every time she is spotted in future.
Komodo dragons and diving: TICK!