Komodo – Paradise Lost Tour – November ‘18
This November, DRP organised a liveaboard tour of the Komodo national park over an 8 day period. For this trip, DRP was very fortunate to be in the capable hands of the Wunderpus team who put together a fantastic schedule aimed at showing guests as much of the national park as possible. The theme of the trip was, “Komodo – Paradise Lost?” which aimed to show guests some of the issues that the national park currently faces and why this is such a fantastic resource that needs to be protected.
Wunderpus was an ideal partner for this tour as they have a real operational focus on reducing their environmental impact and helping encourage other operators to do so as well. It was this approach and attitude that led Wunderpus and a few other operations within Komodo to form DOCK which stands for Dive Operators Community Komodo. In its essence, DOCK was formed to provide standardised operating procedures across the park, monitor the park on a daily basis and report infringements against regulations; lobby local and regional Indonesian authorities to afford more protections and resources to the national park and create social cohesion between dive operators and local communities to ensure all parties are working to long-term mutually beneficial goals. One recent incentive which DOCK has initiated is the introduction of DOCK packs, these packs contain a reusable water bottle, reusable straw, recycled plastic Trash Hero tote bag and a DOCK supporters tag which entitles members to a 10% discount with affiliated member shops and restaurants in Labuan Bajo. As an incentive, this is aimed to help promote more sustainable approaches to tourism within Labuan Bajo and the national park whilst also making visitors aware of DOCK and their efforts to protect this precious environment. We at DRP are proud supporters of DOCK and were delighted that our group this November were the first recipients of these DOCK packs.
As part of the trip and to help with the group’s comfort for the rest of the tour, there was an opportunity to carry out some trekking in Rinca with the Komodo dragons followed by 2 great check dives and some delicious lunch on the surface interval. Although this area is busier due to its proximity to Labuan Bajo, the first day was a great opportunity for the group to get to know one another and ensure they were entirely comfortable with the diving, equipment and procedures required to dive the national park. In the evening a group meal was organised at Wae Molas which allowed for guests to take advantage of their DOCK supporters tag and receive a cool 10% discount off the meal.
On the 2nd of November, the tour started off with beautiful blue skies and pods of enthusiastic dolphins as the boat set out for the first day of diving in the central area as we headed out towards the west. The highlight of which was a dusk dive at the fantastic golden passage where huge pelagics such as reef sharks, jacks, bumphead parrotfish and snappers were seen in abundance. In the evening guests were treated to a short talk on the national park and information about its establishment, why this is such a unique marine environment and what is being done to preserve this for future generations.
The route taken during the beginning of the trip allowed for the group to head out to west Komodo to see an area which is afforded less protection than central and southern areas and whilst there were some incredible dives such as Banana Split, Serikaya and Galley Rock it was clear that although reef systems were healthy the frequency of pelagic sightings was significantly lower than other areas. As west Komodo is generally dived less than other areas, mooring areas were quieter at night and on the 2nd day, the lure of a potential new night dive sight led to some of the group heading out on a fantastic night dive on the newly discovered J Spot!
Day 3 saw an early start as guests were treated to a fantastic morning dive at the infamous Banana split – this is a brilliant dive site which starts in a deep valley and divers are gradually pushed faster and faster down a shallowing gully which had a healthy variety of rock and coral topography. The tour started to head back towards the central region but not before a wonderful late morning dive taking in the beautiful Batu Moncong with its long sloping reef walls and beautiful coral garden on top. Docking in the northern part of the park in the early afternoon, the team carried out a beach clean-up on Gili Lawa Darat with the assistance of some of the national park rangers and some inquisitive deer’s. This island had recently been shut down due to a fire which had burned the dry pre-monsoon grasses very quickly. The beach had previously been used by local operators to carry out BBQs and bonfires in the evening and remnants of these activities were evident in trash on the shore and shallow waters. Hot and tired, we made our way back for an immediate briefing before jumping in for a dive in castle rock. One of the north’s crowning gems, Castle Rock is a submerged pinnacle which has rich nutrient-filled current passing through which creates a fish soup experience and brings in many different types of pelagic visitors such as sharks, rays, groupers, snappers to name but a few – definitely a shorter dive due to the sheer adrenaline levels experienced seeing such an awesome underwater show! In the evening, the decision was taken to see the newly protected Gili Lawa Darat reef at night and this did not disappoint as guests saw many different critters such as frogfish, ornate ghost pipefish alongside a wide variety of crustaceans.
On day 4 guests were treated to an early morning dive on Spanish Gardens with its beautiful coral gardens and a few choice mantas and turtle encounters to start the day off the right way! After breakfast and bit of surface time, the group was able to dive another fantastic site in Crystal Rock – similar to castle rock, this pinnacle has an abundance of pelagic life that can be seen on its sloping walls with some stronger currents up towards the shallower areas. After a nice relaxing spot of lunch and surface interval, it was time to tackle one of the north’s most famous sites, the cauldron, strong currents, channel divers over a wonderful bowl formation which is closed in with a narrowing valley at one end – this is definitely an adrenaline filled dive and divers were swept through into the beautiful coral gardens at the end of the dive site. Moored up in Turtle Town, guests had a relaxed afternoon preparing for another night dive at Siaba Besar which provided some excellent critter encounters once again with robust ghost pipefish, bobtail squid and hunting lionfish all keeping guests captivated.
What better way to start day 5 than a sunrise dive on Batu Balong, the groups managed to hit this at slack high and this allowed for a more comfortable experience around the site and taking in all the wonders of the beautiful sloping coral reefs and schools of pelagic fish around the site. Although guests had had a few manta experiences, it was decided that a dive on Manta point had to be made and it was fantastic to see healthy manta populations going about their daily cleaning practices. One group from the trip was confronted with an uglier side to diving in Komodo with a group from another operator who were holding onto cleaning stations and approaching mantas in an intimidating manner which was in direct contrast to approaches laid out by DOCK and the national park-fortunately the incidents were recorded and reported to help raise awareness of infringements such as this. The day was finished off with a relaxed dive in turtle town followed by a wonderful evening where guests were treated to a short presentation on Manta Rays and their environmental fragility and what is being done to protect them in Indonesia followed by an excellent documentary shot by the Jetlagged which is called Patterns of the Ocean.
On day 6, the tour moved down from central into more southern parts of the national park starting with a fantastic dive at the dark and moody end of the world – a deep but beautiful coral wall where passing pelagics can often be seen in the blue. Not to be outdone, this was then followed by two dives on Manta Alley where multiple cruising manta rays were seen on both dives in very healthy numbers. Evening affairs were more chilled and guests had the opportunity to some conservation focused documentaries and understand more about extinction events brought on by human interactions.
On the penultimate day 7, the tour headed further south with a great morning dive on Pillarsteen, the dramatic coral walls and surgey conditions meant guests were able to cover significant distance over the sight. Moving the boat to the last mooring destination, guests were treated to fantastic dives on the famous Cannibal Rock and Crinoid Canyon – both sites had healthy and abundant coral reefs with large amounts of critters for guests to discover and marvel over. The last evening had to be done in style and what better way than a night dive on Torpedo Point – this sandy slope plays host to a huge amount of crazy critters such as frogfish, pipefish, amphipods and crustaceans.
The last day of the tour was started off with an excellent return to Cannibal Rock as divers had enjoyed the site so much the first time around! After a delicious final breakfast, there was time for one final dive and Jimmy’s Place was the spot of choice. This site was built of some incredible boulders and a submerged seamount and as the groups made their way through this labyrinth they were treated to some wonderful delights such as schooling barracuda, snappers and beautiful coral gardens – this was an epic finish to the diving for the trip and one to remember! With the diving done, it was time for the slow cruise back towards Labuan Bajo as equipment was washed, dried and packed ready for the next adventure. Once back in port, the group had a few hours to refresh after the trip before a celebratory evening meal in Bajo Taco.
Throughout the tour, it was fantastic to see how much enjoyment guests got out of the experience with DRP and Wunderpus at the helm. The group was beyond fantastic and there were some lifelong friendships formed over the period. DRP are very thankful for each and every guest for joining this trip and the energy and enthusiasm that everyone brought with them – it is encouraging to know that there are so many passionate people in this world who are ready to fight for the future of our oceans. We are very excited about our ongoing work with the Wunderpus team and are looking forward to our next manta and coral conservation focused tour in March 2019.