Komodo Indonesia Scroll the aquatic vision of photographer Catherine Salisbury

Here's Komodo National Park, one of Indonesia's handful of protected areas where fishing has been limited and the marine life has been given a chance to rebound from the destruction that overfishing and dynamiting has caused throughout South East Asia. Why was Komodo protected? Because one of its islands, Rinca, is home to the infamous and endangered Komodo Dragon, a 3 metre long flesh-eating reptile. On land, Komodo is arrid and barren with very little vegetation or animal life. But just the opposite is true under the surface of the sea.

There is a flotilla of dive boats that head out daily from the dusty town of Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. These slow, old-style wooden boats start their 2 hour journey out to the north end of the park early each morning. A dozen or so liveaboards or "safari boats" stay out overnight in the park. For the passionate diver who wants to maximize their time underwater, the liveaboard is the perfect solution. On liveaboards the day begins with a 7 am dive and finish with a night dive at 7 pm. Liveaboards also permit divers to visit the entire park, with distances that are beyond the scope of the day boats. We did both!

Ambai, Wallacea Dive Liveaboard
Orca Dive day boat out of Labuan Bajo

Komodo is divided into two regions: the north and the south. The two regions have varying marine creatures as well as water temperatures, visibility and colour. During the time we visited, the water in the south was a chilly 20 celsius, blue-green, with a maximum visibility of 10 metres. As such, we spent more time in the north.

So let me grab my dive buddy

And lets go dive Komodo!

But hang on tight 'cause the current is ripping!!

Batu Bolong - Komodo Dive Site Extraordinaire

Batu Bolong is the top dive in Komodo National Park. Batu Bolong is a small rock with a donut-shaped hole in it, situated in north Komodo at a place where the current of 2 oceans, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, converge. This place has more sea life than any other spot. Makes sense: where the current is strong, there are fish. On the east and west ends of Batu Bolong are current whirlpools, capable of pushing divers down to the depths and pulling them back up to the surface in a matter of seconds. These whirlpools are locally known as washing machines. You need to stay out of them. If you get close and the pull gets too strong, turn around and go the other way - that easy. Enough said about technique, take a look at the photos of the non stop action and the explosion of life.

An iconic piece of coral from Batu Bolong,
Red is the colour of the huge vase sponges and a pair of nervous groupers
A beautiful canyon in which both fish and divers climb up from the depths and descend.

This beautiful soft coral above reminds me of the tree in the film Avatar, where creatures large and small live in harmony in the branches. This soft coral, like the tree in Avatar, is home to a complex and interdependent ecosystem.

Take a look at the creatures that make up the ecosystem. We'll start by the ones under 2 centimetres...

A tiny but brave juvenile parrotfish
A chromis
A banded shrimp

Some creatures that are under 10 centimetres

An anthias
Mucho anthias
A moorish idol
A butterflyfish

Between 30-60 centimetres and capable of defence

An eel
An emperor angelfish
A mantis shrimp
A lionfish

Coral and crinoid details reveal intricate webs of life.

Crinoids and bubbles

Sweet lips are a species of fish numerous at Batu Bolong. They are sometimes solitary but mostly in groups. They congregate in what are called cleaning stations, where small fish pick parasites off of the fish's skin and even out of their mouths.

The show continues at Batu Bolong up in the shallows of the reef, where we finish our dive.

Heavenly safety stop

Back to the boat and on to the next adventure!

Castle Rock and Crystal Rock

These two dive site, close to each other, were exciting beyond belief with current ripping and the sharks there to enjoy it. Most of the action is down at 30 metres and so you have limited time to hook in and watch the show. But the excitement goes on in the shallower depths with white tips lying on the rubble, groupers and other fish in cleaning stations and even some neat macro stuff in the crevices where you can take a break from the current.

Castle Rock
Castle Rock - a little shallower

A moment out of the current with a large grouper

Castle Rock - even shallower to finish our dive

Complete camouflage by this scorpionfish on the rock

Crystal Rock

The dive at Crystal Rock finishes with a beautiful pinnacle of coral.

Crystal Rock - base of the pinnacle

At the base of the pinnacle, a beautiful leaf scorpionfish poses for me.

Crystal Rock - above the pinnacle

Above the pinnacle circle a school of hungry trevalles, dropping down to catch their prey. A black female is courted by a silver male trevalle.

Manta Point

On the rubbly flats between islands, mantas gather at cleaning stations - small groupings of little fish on small coral growths - to get their massages. We had a few encounters with manta rays in Komodo. We were joined by 2 mantas for our entire dive at Shotgun but I have no pictures of that magical event. It was Sunday, my day off, and the camera was back on the boat. But Manta Point was our first and most memorable experience with mantas in Komodo.

A grouper at a cleaning station at Manta Point. It's time to clear out for the big guy...

Tatawa Besar

Another north Komodo site worth special mention is Tatawa Besar. On days that the current runs hard, you speed down the sloping reef, with seconds to look at the varying and rich passing life.

Behind large coral heads, you can duck down and get out of the flow of current. You will find wonderful marine life doing the same thing as you - seeking a quiet place to take a break.

Clownfish dance in the swaying anemones

The end of the dive finishes on a bed of coral rubble where turtles can be found nibbling.

South Komodo

Dark, murky and cold is the downside. Full of nutrients, supporting a rich marine life is the upside. The rugged landscapes of south Komodo are beautiful with explosions of small fish everywhere, as the larger fish hunt on the reef.

Where else in the world can you see a giant trevalle on the reef to get cleaned?

Caves and overhangs in south Komodo are plentiful.

Caves with creatures to be discovered!

Frogfish Fever

One of our greatest moments in the south was when we found a pair of giant frogfish - about 30 centimetres large - hiding in amongst the coral. Our brief encounter was interrupted by some pushy divers who zoomed in to see what we were photographing... Funny how photography, frogfish and seahorses brings out the worst in our underwater etiquette.

Artist interpretation by Dominique Serafini
Time for them to take a walk..
And us to take a walk as well!

Creatures Galore

I didn't have time to get the photo of the pair of frogfish together but we moved on and were recompensed by an array of different creatures that I have never seen before. Being mostly a wide angle photographer, I was astonished.

Nudibranches of all colours
Anemone crab, pipefish, blue spot octopus, crocodile fish, various clown fish and scorpionfish and some things I still haven't identified.
Scads of blue spotted stingrays both in a hurry...
and at rest

But When The Lights Go Out...

It's at night when you truly realize the tremendous number of species in Komodo National Park. This biodiversity extends to many parts of Indonesia including Sulawesi and Papua, which are all part of the coral triangle, the most biodiverse underwater region of the world. Most creatures that we saw were out hunting on the sand or in the coral rubble.

Baby baramundi
Doing a dance
Flounders coupling
Some form of scorpionfish
A lace scorpionfish, rare in Komodo
Mantis shrimp
An eel buried in the sand
And a tiny juvenile lionfish

Gazing at the Stars

One of the strangest creatures was a stargazer, rightfully named, buried in the sand, waiting for his prey quietly. Unfortunately the little fish that you see in the following photos didn't survive the evening. The pounce was fast and the fish was swallowed.

Decorator Crab - Komodo's Top Photo Opportunity

The Komodo trip was made extra special for me as I discovered the beauty of a species of crabs called decorator crabs. Only a few centimetres in size, they are ornate, otherworldly and exceptional photographic subjects. Decorator crabs cover their body with anemones and coral polyps in an attempt to camouflage themselves. The outfits are outrageous and would be sure to inspire Jean-Paul Gauthier if he got wind of them. A successful decorator crab is an unfindable subject. Here the dive guides on board our boat, Ambai, with years of experience of searching for them, were irreplaceable.

Start by looking for their eyes and the picture will become clear!

Technical Info

Photos were shot with a Nikon d300 camera, Aquatica housing, a pair of Inon d2000 strobes, a Sigma 17-70mm lens, a Nikon 60mm macro lens and a Nikon 10.5mm fisheye. Technical support was graciously provided by my good friend Sylvain Marcotte... Merci Sylvain!

Couldn't do it without!

Special thanks to Akim and the team onboard the terrific liveaboard Ambai for being great at everything they did.

And to Tanja at Orca Dive in Labuan Bajo for smiling in the face of adversity and making it work.

But most of all, thank you to my life and dive partner Dominique Serafini for inspiring me everyday to live life to its fullest.

One last word of thanks goes out to the Komodo Dragon for inspiring Indonesians to protect Komodo and it's underwater world. Long live Komodo!

I hope you liked my underwater portrait of Komodo. Other photographic work by me can be seen at my website.

Created By
Catherine Salisbury
Catherine Salisbury

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