It’s a divers’ paradise, famous throughout the Coral Triangle and the world for magnificent corals and reef fish. Its legendary dragon and a distinct ecosystem have even earned it World Heritage Site status, as well as a place in the roster of the provisional New Seven Wonders of Nature. So why can we no longer take all these wonders for granted?
There is a lot at stake. With more than 1,000 species of tropical fish, 260 species of coral, and rare marine mammals, Komodo is quite unlike anywhere else in the world.
Strong tidal flows combine with nutrient-rich water upwelling from the depths of the Indian Ocean to create ideal conditions for an amazing diversity species of corals and tropical fish to flourish.
And flourish they have, drawing thousands of paying visitors every year.
The undoing of a world class diving site
But the news coming out of Komodo these days suggest that a current of destruction is sweeping across the park.
Divers are reporting that more and more illegal fishers are blasting fish out of the waters using home-made explosive devices, a quick but destructive way to catch fish.
Fishers are not the only ones to blame. Some dive boats are reported to drop their heavy anchors on fragile reefs. Underwater, the scars of these tactics are painfully visible to those familiar with the former grandeur of the park’s reefs.
Komodo regulars such as Michael Ishak, a scuba instructor and professional underwater photographer, recently returned to one of his favourite spots, Tatawa Besar, known for its colourful clouds of damselfish, basslets and hawksbill sea turtles. He found that a 500-m2 section of the famous reef had been obliterated [click here to see a photo of illegal activity in Komodo].
At the heart of the problem
These developments are symptoms of a generalized problem--the lack of application of the park’s management plan and law enforcement in no-take zones (areas where fishing is prohibited).
Fishermen seem to be free to enter the national park, completely ignoring the zoning and resource use regulations. As a result, they are fishing empty the World Heritage Site. And yet, with improved leadership, more regular patrols and improved communication, some of these problems could be substantially reduced.
The question is, is there enough goodwill from the national park to save Komodo, one of the jewels of the Coral Triangle?