The Seven Seas News - July 2012
Dr. Rodney Salm, on the status & resilience of Komodo coral reefs in July 2012
Looking back 40 years ago when I first came to Komodo and again 30, 20 & 10 years ago, I realize I looked for different things at different times of my life. Forty years ago, whale sharks and whales used to come right into Teluk Slawi and I would see them with each visit. Only in recent years have I become more interested in the effects of climate change on coral reefs. Last year I took a mini sabbatical of 7 months to see how the reefs of Indonesia and the West Pacific had responded to the heat stress and bleaching that happened in 2010 and 2011. While I loved the diving I did in many places: Palau, Yap, Wakatobi, Raja Ampat, islands to the East of Komodo, it was the Komodo National Park and World Heritage site that stood out as exceptional; and not just for its fish life, when so many other parts of Indonesia have been fished out. It was the state of the corals that blew my booties off! They were very healthy, had good color, active growing margins, low incidence of disease, and showed minimal damage.
So, after all the recent press articles I've been reading and conversations I've been hearing about poaching of fishes and lack of enforcement in the Komodo National Park, it was with trepidation that I returned this year in July on board the Seven Seas - I was expecting to see reefs reduced to rubble from blast fishing and few big fish. I always make a point of recording damage and indicators of misuse and abuse of coral reefs. I was happily surprised though, to find Komodo's reefs in the same shape as I recorded them last year. However, there does seem to be a developing incidence of disease, in particular of table corals and predation by the coral-eating snail Drupella. I saw enough to know there is more now than last year, especially at Castle Rock, where an advanced and aggressive form of disease is wiping out table corals at an alarming rate. It looked like a 1.5 metre table coral could succumb to this disease in as little as a week to ten days. I also noticed that the corals had more tumors, specifically cancerous tumors.
That said, the fish life was phenomenal - where else can you predictably see sharks almost every dive, quantities of big fish: napoleon wrasse, giant trevallies, groupers, red snappers, schools of sweetlips, dogtooth tuna, eagle rays, manta rays, Javanese cow rays? Admittedly the Seven Seas Cruise Directors & crew are clued up on the best places to go and the best times to go there, so I try to balance what I see with who is leading the trip I am on, but still, there is no question. When I go out to other sites in Indonesia with our Nature Conservancy staff, who know their reefs very well, we don't see anything like what I'm seeing in Komodo. Komodo is outstanding for the variety and quantity of life and is impressive to the point of being almost overwhelming.
Komodo remains a very special place and it is inspiring to see how healthy and resilient the corals are and how areas that have been damaged either by fisheries practice or boat anchoring are able to recover with time. It would be great to see the tourism sector and park authorities work hand in hand in maintaining the multiple values to people locally, nationally and globally provided by this World Heritage Site, especially as it is now established as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Dr. Rodney Salm,