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
THREE AMAZING KOMODO PINNACLES
By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose
Komodo has some incredible dive sites, but on a recent trip to this wonderful part of Indonesia the standout feature were the pinnacles – amazing towers of coral covered in a multitude of marine life.
We experienced our first Komodo pinnacle on our very first dive in the Komodo National Park. Diving from the liveaboard vessel Blue Dragon, we had anchored at the northern end of Komodo Island in the early morning and were quickly on the tender boat heading into open water.
Our guide Syam had earlier briefed us that the site we were about to explore was very special, but that turned out to be an understatement! We dropped into blue water, the visibility over 30m and the bottom over a 100m below. We followed Syam into the blue when suddenly a dark shape started to materialise, a huge pinnacle rising from the depths – Castle Rock.
Our first view of Castle Rock was breathtaking, not because of the pinnacle, but because we could hardly see it for the schools of fish. Everywhere we looked there were schools of fish – trevally, batfish, surgeonfish, snapper and fusiliers. And swimming amongst the schools were over a dozen white-tip reef sharks, gropers, Maori wrasse, rainbow runners, mackerel and some very large giant trevally. This was easily the fishiest dive site we had ever seen in Indonesia, and proof that protecting an area from fishing pressures works.
I looked at all these large fish in complete frustration, as I had a macro lens on my camera. I should have listen to Ah Gan, the owner of Blue Dragon, who had informed me that this pinnacle was amazing, but being early in the morning and our first dive at Komodo National Park I hadn’t expected a bonanza of wide angle subjects. Of course I was also missing out on photographing the incredible corals that covered this pinnacle; the wide gorgonians, the beautiful whip corals, the huge barrel sponges and the radiant soft corals. Fortunately I quickly found another reason why Komodo’s pinnacles are so special, as they are also home to an incredible range of small reef fish, invertebrates and critters. We were soon ignoring all the big stuff swimming around us and had our heads down photographing nudibranchs, flatworms, shrimps, porcelain crabs, moray eels, lionfish, leaf scorpionfish and two beautiful blue ribbon eels.
After an hour long dive we were suffering from sensory overload at Castle Rock and can see why it is rated as one of the best dive sites at Komodo. Only two hours later, after a very filling breakfast, we were ready to explore our next Komodo pinnacle, Crystal Rock.
The wide angle lens had wisely replaced the macro lens, which turned out to be a smart move as this pinnacle was almost as good as the first. Crystal Rock is closer to shore, so not as deep, only rising from around 60m, but is an incredible dive. Once again we encountered schools of trevally, snapper and batfish, plus the white-tip reef sharks, Maori wrasse and gropers, almost like the crowd had moved from Castle Rock to Crystal Rock. But a highlight was all the large reef fish that seemed to like hanging out in groups; such as sweetlips, bannerfish, barramundi cod and angelfish.
This large pinnacle was also decorated with some wonderful corals; gardens of hard corals, walls of orange soft corals and many outcrops of large barrel sponges. We actually only explored one side of Crystal Rock as a strong current was ripping past the other side of the pinnacle. Komodo is notorious for strong currents, one of the reasons these waters are so rich, and is also known for upwellings, downwellings and thermoclines at times. But diving with an experience crew like the team from Blue Dragon we managed to avoid these, accept when doing a drift diving site, and found that the crew were very safety conscious at all times, always with two tender boats in the water for quick diver pickups and to keep an eye out for stray divers.
Blue Dragon is a 26m long traditional Phinisi style vessel that accommodates 14 guests in air-conditioned cabins. The liveaboard operates year round in Komodo waters offering six day trips each week, with the boat positioned at the budget end of the market, but without compromising on comfort or safety. On our six day trip we dived a great variety of dive sites; enjoying drift dives between the islands, exploring fringing reefs, we missed the manta rays at Manta Point (too clear and too warm) and loved the muck dive at Wae Nilu. We even saw komodo dragons and other wildlife on a visit to Rinca Island, but the highlight of the trip were Komodo’s wonderful pinnacles, with the last one we did one of the best.
We arrived at Batu Belong to see a tiny lump of rock rising a few metres above the surface. From above it looked like nothing special, but once underwater it blew our minds. Nearly always washed by strong currents we jumped in to find no current, 30m visibility and masses of fish. Rising from the depths the sheer walls of Batu Belong are covered in lovely corals, but we could barely see them because of the fish, a thick cloud of surgeonfish, triggerfish and fairy basslets engulfed the pinnacle. Cruising around the smaller fish were also trevally, batfish, gropers, sweetlips, mackerel, Maori wrasse and several white-tip reef sharks.
With no current we could have circumnavigated the entire pinnacle, which we almost did, but with so much to see and photograph we didn’t make it all the way around. We found ledges home to shrimps, squirrelfish, lionfish, pufferfish and one giant moray, plus anemones overloaded with anemonefish and porcelain crabs, hawksbill turtles resting on the sponges, a couple of leaf scorpionfish and a great collection of nudibranchs. This site had such a great variety of marine life that everyone pleaded to do it again. The crew were more than happy to return for a second dive at Batu Belong, which was just as good as the first dive, except this time the pinnacle was getting washed by a raging current, which limited us to only one side. This was not a problem as it seemed to concentrate the fish into an even smaller area, with them wisely staying out of the current.
Six days and sixteen dives from Blue Dragon was a great introduction to Komodo National Park, but we know we will have to return as there are still many more of those spectacular Komodo pinnacles to explore.
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