Komodo National park is located in the centre of the Indonesian archipelago, between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. Komodo offers a plethora of exciting, challenging and rewarding dive sites, and presents a spectacle of underwater topography, teaming with marine life. Above the water you drift slowly through scattered islands, white sandy beaches, and blue, blue water.
Komodo is a place of dazzling coral reefs, spectacular marine life, fierce dragons and smoking volcanoes, a real life “Jurassic Park” above and below the surface of the seas. One of the last frontiers of the underwater world and a guaranteed dive adventure of a lifetime.
Komodo National Park is part of the volcanic chain known as the Lesser Sunda Islands. On the map you will find this group of islands east of the islands Java and Bali, and in between Sumbawa and Flores. Like Flores, Komodo National Park belongs to the province Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT). Ecologically Komodo National Park lies in the Wallacea Region of Indonesia. It is identified by WWF and Conservation International as a global conservation priority area.
The park covers more than 1,800 km2 of which about a third is land area. The biggest islands are Komodo and Rinca that are about 35 km and 25 km across respectively. Next to these there are numerous smaller islands. The rugged hillsides of dry grassy savannah and only a few patches of green vegetation contrast strongly with the white sandy beaches and the blue waters surging over colourful fish-rich coral reefs.
For many people the main attraction of the park are the Komodo Dragons that are endemic to the islands. For divers it is the extremely rich marine environment that is most appealing.
Labuan Bajo Town
The park can be visited all year round and is highly recommended for both land trips and diving cruises. Most visitors enter the park via Labuan Bajo on Flores. There are daily flights between Labuan Bajo and Denpasar on Bali.
The Komodo Dragons, the white and red sand beaches, blue lagoons and the extremely rich marine live are important reasons for the popularity of Komodo National Park. Another important reason is the fact that the park is relatively easy to reach. The usual town of entrance to the area is Labuan Bajo on the neighbouring island Flores, just outside the park.
Once a small fishing village, Labuan Bajo, in Flores is now a busy bustling centre of tourism. Nearby Kanawa and Seraya Islands are a great opportunity to do some diving and snorkelling and every evening at Kalong Island thousands of flying fox bats put on an amazing display. Within a few hours of Labuan Bajo can be found several waterfalls, trekking and many diverse beaches.
The town is quite small and can easily be traversed on foot (in 10-15 minutes). Ojeks and bemos pass every 5 minutes if you get tired of walking. There are now 4 working ATM’s in the town and the road is paved. Komodo Airport is located just 2 km from the centre of Labuan Bajo and has 4-6 daily flights arriving from Bali. The port has daily ferry departures to Bima and weekly or bi-weekly departures to Denpasar and Sulawesi.
Most dive cruises start from here. Only a few liveaboards start their visits to Komodo from other places, e.g. Bima on the island Sumbawa. There are daily flights between Denpasar (Bali) and Labuan Bajo. The flight takes 90 minutes.
The Komodo National Park area features one of the richest marine environments in the world. These underwater habitats harbour more than 1,000 species of fish, 260 species of reef-building corals, and 70 species of sponges. In addition dolphins, whales, and sea turtles are found in the park.
Most divers will know Komodo as an area with very strong tidal currents. These currents are exiting and good fun for advanced divers, but might make others feel less comfortable. The positive side of the currents is that they cause a very high biodiversity and abundant marine life. The water streaming through the gaps between the islands brings in the nutrients necessary to maintain these conditions.
Though the dive spots with strong tidal currents will not be suitable for less experienced divers, in practice it is possible to find a place for any level diver, as well as for people snorkelling. All can enjoy the spectacular coral reefs teeming with fish of every colour. Much will depend on the knowledge and skills of the guide and the captain of your boat. However your highest chance of meeting with big animals like sharks, manta rays, and dolphins will be in the area with tidal currents.
The underwater topography is as varied as the marine life it houses. Dive sites vary from gentle coral slopes to sheer cliff walls, channels, flat bottoms, pinnacles, caves, swimthroughs and large groups of hard and soft corals. From the Flores Sea in the north, the warm waters gradually become cooler as you travel southwards into the Indian Ocean.
The Marine Park has more than 50 dive sites, many still unspoiled. The water temperature ranges between 27C to 30C, depending on the season and location. In several dive sites the temperature can drop as low as 18C. The visibility is mostly good, often reaching 50 m during April to October.
The Komodo Dragons (Varanus komodoensis) of which only 3,000 remain, only live in Komodo National Park. They are fearsome creatures with enormous jaws, squat muscular legs and sharp claws. Their appearance and aggressive behaviour have led to their name. This monitor lizard can reach more than 3 m in length and about 160 kg in weight. They often lie in wait hidden in the long grass preying on live deer, goats and wild pigs. Young dragons spend most of their time in trees, but dragons over 1.5 m long cannot climb well and those over 2 meters are just too heavy to climb trees. The Komodo dragons are constantly regulating their body temperatures. In the early morning, they must warm-up their bodies in the sun. If their body temperature drops too low, the food in their stomach can rot and cause regurgitation or even death. However, the Komodo Dragon’s body temperature must not exceed 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit). When it is too hot, they must rest and seek shade to prevent their body from over-heating.
Dragons are most active from 6 – 10 in the morning and again from 3 – 5 in the afternoon. During the rainy season Komodo dragons stay in burrows if they are too cold. Komodo dragons sleep at night because it is usually too cool for them to be active. They will sleep where they will not lose too much heat at the edge of the savannah and monsoon forest or in burrows. The average sleeping burrow is only 75 cm to 1.25 m in length. The Komodo dragons will use the burrows of rodents, palm civets, wild boar, porcupine (on Flores) and those made by other Komodo dragons. Nesting burrows are about 2 meters long.
Protection of the park
Komodo National park is located in the centre of the Indonesian archipelago, between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. Established in 1980, initially the main purpose of the Park was to conserve the unique Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) and its habitat. However, over the years, the goals for the Park have expanded to protecting its entire biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine. In 1986, the Park was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, both indications of the Park’s biological importance.
The park covers more than 1,800 km2 of which about a third is land area. The biggest islands are Komodo and Rinca that are about 35 km and 25 km across respectively. Next to these there are numerous smaller islands. As well as being home to the Komodo dragon, the Park provides refuge for many other notable terrestrial species such as the orange-footed scrub fowl, an endemic rat, and the Timor deer. The rugged hillsides of dry grassy savannah and only a few patches of green vegetation contrast strongly with the white sandy beaches and the blue waters surging over colourful fish-rich coral reefs.
According the international conservation organization “The Nature Conservancy” the park was in the 1990’s on the brink of depletion from human activity. After that the organization and its partners have employed creative strategies at Komodo National Park that protect biodiversity and enable people to benefit from the park in sustainable ways — including ecotourism and alternative livelihoods. According to monitoring of 185 sites by Conservancy scientists the results of these efforts are that blast fishing has been reduced by more than 90 percent and coral reefs have recovered by more than 60 percent.
The majority of the people in and around the Park are fishermen originally from Bima (Sumbawa), Manggarai (West Flores), and South Sulawesi. Those from South Sulawesi are from the Suku Bajau or Bugis ethnic groups. The Suku Bajau were originally nomadic and moved from location to location in the region of Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara and Maluku, to make their livelihoods. Descendants of the original people of Komodo, the Ata Modo, still live in Komodo, but there are no pure blood people left and their culture and language is slowly being integrated with the recent migrants.
There are presently almost 4,000 inhabitants living within the park spread out over four settlements (Komodo, Rinca, Kerora, and Papagaran). All villages existed prior to 1980 before the area was declared a national park. In 1928 there were only 30 people living in Komodo Village, and approximately 250 people on Rinca Island in 1930. The population increased rapidly, and by 1999, there were 281 families numbering 1,169 people on Komodo, meaning that the local population had increased exponentially. Komodo Village has had the highest population increase of the villages within the Park, mostly due to migration by people from Bima, Manggarai, Madura (East Java), and South Sulawesi. The number of buildings in Kampung Komodo has increased rapidly from 30 houses in 1958, to 194 houses in 1994, and 270 houses in 2000. Papagaran village is similar in size, with 258 families totalling 1,078 people. As of 1999, Rinca’s population was 835, and Kerora’s population was 185 people. Though the total population currently living in the Park is nearly 4,000 people, the park is as well under influence of the about 17,000 people living in the area immediately surrounding the Park.
Besides the famous Komodo Dragon twelve terrestrial snake species can be found on Rinca island including the Cobra (Naja naja sputatrix), the Russel’s Pit Viper (Vipera russeli) and the Green Tree Viper (Trimeresurus albolabris). The Lizard species include skink (Scinidae), geckos (Gekkonidae), limbless lizards (Dibamidae) and, of course, the monitor lizards (Varanidae). Frogs include the Asian Bullfrog (Kaloula baleata), Oreophyne jeffersoniana and Oreophyne darewskyi. They are typically found at higher, moister altitudes.
Mammals include the Timor deer (Cervus timorensis), the main prey of the Komodo dragon, horses (Equus sp.), water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), wild boar (Sus scrofa vittatus), long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis), palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus lehmanni), the endemic Rinca rat (Rattus rintjanus), and fruit bats. One can also find goats, dogs and domestic cats.
One of the main bird species is the orange-footed scrub fowl (Megapodius reinwardti), a ground dwelling bird. In areas of savannah, 27 bird species were observed. Among them Geopelia striata and Streptopelia chinensis were the most common species. In mixed deciduous habitat, 28 bird species were observed, and Philemon buceroides, Ducula aenea, and Zosterops chloris were the most common.