N I G E L M A R S H P H O T O G R A P H Y
U N D E R W A T E R I M A G E S A N D A R T I C L E S
KOMODO MUCK DIVING
By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose
Indonesia’s Komodo region is most famous for its big fish, strong currents and spectacular reefs and pinnacles, but on a recent trip to this wonderful destination we also discovered that it has a great muck diving site called Wae Nilu.
Having heard so many great stories of Komodo’s rich reefs, we finally got a chance to explore this region for ourselves by joining the liveaboard Blue Dragon. Dozens of liveaboards visit the Komodo area, with Blue Dragon positioned at the budget end of the market, but without compromising on safety or comfort. Built six years ago, but looking like it was over a hundred years old with its traditional Phinisi style and materials, Blue Dragon is 26m long with three levels and accommodates 14 guests in air-conditioned cabins.
Blue Dragon has been exploring the waters of Komodo for the past six years. A typical Blue Dragon trip is six days, and includes 16 dives and also a visit to view the famous Komodo dragons. Our journey to Komodo began in Labuan Bajo, a small town on the western end of Flores, about one and a half hours flight time from Bali. Komodo is spilt into two areas; north and south, with both having very different conditions. The south is best from January to April, and is notorious for cool upwellings and murky water at times, but also has the richest reefs, while the north is visited for the rest of the year and experiences more diver friendly conditions – warm clear water, and sensational diving. Diving in June our voyage would take us too many of the wonderful dive sites in the north.
For the first five days of the trip we explored the legendary reefs and pinnacles of North Komodo, and they were simply spectacular. On every dive we saw masses of reef and pelagic fish, plus gropers, turtles, cuttlefish, reef sharks and some beautiful corals. Most dives we had wide angle lenses on our cameras to capture the action. However, we couldn’t resist putting on our macro lenses a few times, even if it meant missing some of the big stuff, as there was no shortage of smaller critters; blue ribbon eels, pygmy sea horses, nudibranchs, leaf scorpionfish and many others. Each time we set up for macro Ah Gan, the owner of Blue Dragon would say ‘you should wait until we get to Wae Nilu for macro.’ But being so spoilt for macro subjects we just couldn’t wait.
On the afternoon of the fifth day we finally arrived at the site of Wae Nilu. It didn’t look very appealing, with green water lapping around the boat after we had been enjoying lovely 30m visibility at all the other sites we dived. But with Ah raving about the site we gear up for a night dive.
We descended to find the visibility 10m and a sandy sloping bottom, covered in coral rubble in the shallows and soft corals in depths from 6m to 20m. We spent an hour exploring the site and found plenty of photographic subjects, but nothing really spectacular – boxfish, cuttlefish, flatworms, nudibranchs, lionfish, a demon stinger and plenty of crustaceans. It was an enjoyable dive, but appeared to be a pretty average muck diving site, so we couldn’t understand why Ah was raving about it.
The next morning we diving Wae Nilu again and hoped it would be better. The visibility was still green, and looked worse in daylight with lots of suspended particles. We settled on the bottom and ran straight into a thornback cowfish, one of the cutest fish in the sea. This gorgeous fish keep our cameras busy for a few minutes until we realised that this cowfish had plenty of mates accompanying it. Only moving another metre we found a peacock mantis shrimp and then a large smasher mantis shrimp. Within the next few metres we added several pretty nudibranchs, numerous decorator crabs and a beautiful blue ribbon eel to a growing list of critters to photograph. This site was getting better and better by the minute.
We ended up doing a 90 minute dive and only reluctantly surfaced because we had almost sucked our tanks dry. There were critters and juvenile reef fish everywhere. We photographed ghost pipefish, cuttlefish, boxfish, anemonefish, leatherjackets, tuskfish, moray eels, gobies, blennies, dragonets, cardinalfish, wrasse, lionfish, shrimps, hermit crabs, scorpionfish, decorator crabs, flatworms and many other species. Mantis shrimps and blue ribbon eels seemed to be everywhere, but a highlight came at the end of the dive finding two painted anglerfish in only 4m of water.
Two hours later we were back for another 80 minute dive, and as Wae Nilu covers such a wide area we had a whole new section to explore. On this dive we started deeper, on the sandy slope in 20m. Here were sea pens, anemones, blue spotted stingrays, lots of shrimp gobies and numerous fire urchins. Our guide Syam checked many of these urchins to find commensal shrimps and two beautiful zebra crabs, always a treat to photograph.
We saw pretty much the same species as the previous dive, but also encountered a school of razor fish and a giant anglerfish. At one point we found the biggest mantis shrimp hole we have ever seen, around 12cm in diameter. We peered into the hole wondering what monster mantis shrimp resided here when Syam started tapping at the entrance. We sat back to watch what would happen, and after 40 seconds a huge smasher mantis shrimp rose to the entrance to peer back at us. It was massive, bigger than most crayfish we have seen!
We surfaced buzzing after two brilliant dives at this wonderful muck site, only to find that the guides were a little disappointed, as they usually see a lot more critters, like flamboyant cuttlefish and mimic octopus. If this was Wae Nilu on a bad day we can’t wait to see it on a good day. For us Wae Nilu was the icing on the cake, topping off six days of brilliant diving at Komodo on Blue Dragon.
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