Diving Komodo on Cajoma III

NOVEMBER 2016

The Magnificent Seven (with five URG members) left Sydney early Tuesday with a heavy load of luggage. Overnighting in Kuta, Bali, we flew to Labuan Bajo, in Western Flores, and transferred directly to the boat by 10:00 am.

Wednesday 9th

After unpacking and sorting gear, we set a course WNW and picked up a mooring at Sebayur Island, about 2 hours from the Harbour with a delicious lunch on the way. We had a checkout dive with our two guides, Benny and Jimmy, at Sebayur Kecil (Little Sebayur) and cruised in warm, clear water along a sandy slope with no current. Highlights were an Eagle Ray finning off into the Blue, a large moray and lots of fish. 60 minutes of lazy finning no deeper than 20 m on the sand brought us to the surface for the dinghies to return us to the boat.

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Six out of seven for the night dive, same location, opposite direction, called Mini Wall. A very beautiful night dive, with soft corals startling in their density of colour. Highlights were banded shrimp, a militia of various crabs, a mantis shrimp. Lots of bumping into each other in the dark, a dive time of 55 mins!

Wonderful to return to a cold Bintang and dinner with fresh fish.

Thursday 10th

The two Johns found deafness in one ear a boon with their beds above the generator. Andrew found the a/c too much and slept in the saloon. Pablo reported that he slept OK on deck.

komodo-sweetlipsFirst dive at Tatawa Besar (Big Lovely) about 40 minutes WSW from our mooring at Sebayur. And a lovely coral garden it is. A slow drift dive slowly ascending from a depth of around 23m, showed us brilliant orange soft corals, large barrel sponges and other huge sponges spreading over several square metres and standing over a metre high. Highlights included a graceful large manta, eagle rays, black reef shark, a turtle, spotted and striped sweetlips.

An hour or two South saw us moored at the Southern end of Padar Island, where we dived the Three Sisters – a group of three bommies rising from 30m to near 5m. A little bit of current made some of the finning a bit challenging but the bommie walls were spectacular with soft corals, and lots of fish including some very athletic blue snapper.

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We had expected to be much further South today, but the Captain advises that strong Southerly winds have built larger seas.

komodo-padar-islandOur third dive today was at nearby Pilarsteen which was a gentle drift dive along a coral slope with almost every form of smaller schooling fish that there are – from fusiliers to yellow snapper. Each cave held surprises from a convention of painted crays to a large school of fluorescent micro-sized fish. Max. depth 26.5 m and duration of 63 minutes.

A trip ashore on Padar Island with several of us climbing to the top of a nearby hill for stunning views over the local archipelago allowed photographers to take shots of the sunset-lit white crescent beaches. That meant that the night dive did not happen and Bintang Hour took precedence.

Friday 11th

komodo-04Moving half an hour North, still on the East Side of Padar Is, we had our first dive of the day at a site called Secret Garden. Whilst at first sight it seemed a boring sandy slope, there gradually emerged an exciting diversity of life. We started at 26m and lasted for 56 minutes. Some of the highlights were mobius rays, the largest bull ray any of us had seen, asleep on the plateau, two very large frog fish, various morays, spotted, green and yellow.

After breakfast, we moved an hour or more West to Pink Beach on Komodo itself. Here we were assailed by several boats from the nearby village selling pearls, and carved dragons, bowls made from abalone shell and all manner of things beautiful and hideous.

Dive two at Pink Beach Rock was like the earlier dive, starting with a sandy slope and finishing on a reef with many swirling schools of various fish including fusiliers. Other highlights included our largest seen Alligator Flathead, blue-spotted rays and a great diversity of macro life.

Dive three at Komodo Reef was so full of macro life it was almost a muck dive. Many species of nudis and small crabs. Max depth of 21 m seemed much less due to the very gradual slope. There was discovered a very large moray on the last rock of the dive, near to our 5m safety stop. The dive lasted 62 minutes.

Although a trip to Pink Beach was on the program, we went straight across for a visit to Komodo Village, one of four on the Island. We were met by a mostly toothless old man who greeted John P with a hug and called him Papa. The entry to the village from the main jetty was labelled Eco Village, somewhat ironically. We walked along a boardwalk beside the sea wall, above a broad scattering of rubbish including a good deal of plastic.

komodo-05After about one kilometer, we were ushered into an official-looking building where the President (Mayor?) had us sign a book after a small donation of IRP 10,000 (US$1.00) each. This was, reportedly, to help fund kids to clean up the rubbish! Some of us visited the school, which was quite presentable. There was still a class in progress which the young teacher told us was for a final exam for middle school students to qualify for high school.

Saturday 12th

We were motoring North from about 5:00am so that we arrived at Manta Point for a 7:00am start. This dive was a rapid drift dive at depths between 6m and 10m over very boring coral rubble. After about 50 minutes of seeing not very much, we did briefly sight two very large mantas of which Pablo got some video.

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Dive two was one of the best wall dives any of us have experienced. This was at a small rock named Batu Bolong (Hole in the Rock), in a strong tidal current from the South. Diving in the lee, on the North side, we saw a wide variety and large number of very large fish including potato cod, giant sweetlips and napoleon wrasse. The wall itself was a feast of colour, with soft corals, a pride of lion fish and lots of macro life.

komodo-07Dive three, at Siaba Kecil (Little Siaba Island) was one of the most dramatic dives of the trip. With a very strong current, we were instructed to swim across current to get depth in order to view the life in a series of caves/overhangs between 15m and 25m. Once inside these caves the current ceased. We found these overhangs, and the life inside was interesting and varied, but our guide Benny was quite demonstrative that he did not want us loitering here, but that we must move on. Too soon, we were led to ascend across the current into calm shallows. The coral here was distinctive in its leaf-like shape and yellow/green colour, reminding me of the “cabbage” coral at Cocos Island.

komodo-08Only three of us accompanied Benny on a sunset dive just 100 m away from the mooring at Siaba Busar. Andrew, Pablo and John P were competing for camera access to each of the macro opportunities found by Benny. We were also competing with a large lion fish who enjoyed having his dinner prospects highlighted by our torches. The area was a sandy flat which offered little prospect at first, but as the darkness increased, so did the macro life. First a few flatworms – black with iridescent blue markings – emerged. Then we found a number of leaf pipefish. Later we encountered feisty crabs, a remarkable white octopus with proportionately very long and elastic arms, a black-banded white sea snake and a gathering of glass shrimp. Max 13m for 66 mins.

Sunday 13th

About an hour’s motoring brought us to the Northern-most island in the group, Gili Lawa Laut. Here, there is no shelter from the tidal currents which are building as the moon is approaching full.

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Our first dive was on Castle Rock. The briefing led us to expect big currents, but they were relatively mild. Without the schools of large fish which the turbulence brings, it was one of the less interesting dives to date. Highlights were a turtle arriving and eating a spiny plant beside us, and a pout of spotted sweetlips at a cleaning station.

Our second dive was on nearby Crystal Rock. How two such similar and close sites could deliver such different experiences is amazing. Here the fish life was prolific as were the soft corals. Highlights included a large fleet of Moorish idols, sea snake, sweet lips.

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Our third dive was very exciting, going with the tidal current through the Komodo Shotgun. Lots of big fish enjoying the current. The cauldron was a wide, deep bowl down to 18m before going over the shallow lip of the channel at 8m at around 3 knots. On the other side, there was a wonderful coral garden in which to spend the last 15 minutes of the dive.

A trip ashore on the island Gili Lawa Darat allowed some of us to climb the nearby peak to provide a great view of the beaches and the bay, below, as the sun set.

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Monday 14th

komodo-12First dive this morning was back to Batu Bolong which we dived on Saturday, but this time in the lee from the Southerly current, on the North side. It was just as good, possibly even better than last time, with lots of schools of fish, dense and varied corals, lots of colour.

Our second dive today was the standout of the lot! The site was named Mawan, and was a slope off two sandy beaches on the North side of the island. A gentle doddle at 16m or so, until we arrived at a shallow sandy slope which was reported as a manta cleaning station.

komodo-13Here we were awed by a series of very large mantas circling our position. For much of the time we had at least three large mantas gliding around us and each other while moon wrasse and other cleaner fish groomed them. Wow!

It was going to be impossible for the next dive to match our previous experience with the mantas, but we found Siaba Besar (Big Siaba) pretty damned good, with a colourful reef and a fascinating sandy flat. Highlights were a couple of cooperative turtles, and great macro life on the sand including pipefish, flounder and several flamboyant cuttlefish.

Our fourth dive of the day with six participants was a night dive at Wainilu which was a slope of mostly coral rubble. Some macro life included cowfish, cuttles, pipefish, several exotic forms of holothurian and a very beautiful Spanish Dancer – orange and white.

Tuesday 15th

An early start saw us off to trek with the Dragons at 7:00am. A short boat ride brought us to the jetty and entry to the National Park station on Rinca Island. Here, our two guides armed with forked poles to fend off attacking Dragons, briefed us about the Dragons, to the chattering accompaniment of long-tailed Macaque monkeys. We learned how the males are up to three metres long with proportionately larger heads than the smaller two-metre-long females. There were several small youngsters around, too, who rightly feared the large males who would readily eat them.

Apparently, the young, who hatch at Easter after 9 months’ gestation in the shell, spend the first three or four years living in the branches of trees to avoid the adult males. On our walk around the short (Green) trail, we saw a female guarding a low broad mound with large holes, which was an extensively prepared nest.

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The first of our last two dives was a very relaxing glide along a wall on the Northern side of an Island called Pulau Tengah, in the lee from the strong Southerly current. Abundant reef fish life was unusually cooperative for photographers. A large Napoleon Wrasse appeared to be dive-bombing those fish which were his competitors for whatever food he was after. It was the first time we found ourselves mixed up with multiple other dive groups from other boats.

Our last dive saw us return to the locale of our very first dive at Sebayur Island, at a site named Sebayur Reef. Unfortunately, a number of circumstances combined to make it a less than rewarding dive. Firstly, John P mentioned some time earlier that it would be good to see a pygmy seahorse. Jimmy thought it would be a good idea that we dive as a group of nine. Thirdly, with the moon being full tonight, the currents are at their strongest. Not a good idea to try to arrange for seven divers together to look at and photograph a pygmy seahorse at 22m in a strong current with poor visibility. As was asked at the briefing: “What could possibly go wrong?”

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Anyhow, the poor experience of this last dive just emphasized what a fabulous week of diving we have had. Thanks, Jimmy and Benny. Thanks to the crew. Thanks to everything that has made this region the biodiversity hotspot that it is.

For more photos from this amazing trip please visit https://goo.gl/photos/VFHCyDzMNGeecpVD8

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