Bubble Coral Shrimp, Komodo
The Seven Seas News - February 2014

South Komodo on the Seven Seas

Trip Report by Sonia Goggel, Photos by David George

The gorgeous Seven Seas, hosting us for the 5th trip since July 2012, has become our floating home in Indonesia, and her exceptional Crew and Cruise Directors Karl and Linda our family.

Our destination this time was South Komodo, our second trip in a row, both organized by my dear friends, underwater cinematographer Tom Campbell and his partner Beth Davidow. It has been a privilege and very humbling to see them in action.

South Komodo is the perfect destination this time of year. The water is clear and warm, and all the other dive boats seem to be somewhere else: we were mostly all alone, moored in paradise-like, protected bays, surrounded by impressive scenery, with Komodo dragons, deer, wild pigs and monkeys patrolling the beaches and white-bellied sea eagles flying above our heads.

The weather was mostly sunny with occasional rainy and windy days, which did not bother our diving, and coloured the, normally brown and dry, scenery a lush green.

Juvenile Pinnate Batfish
Mating Nembrotha Nudibranchs

Half of us were fortunate to stay for two trips, relaxing in Labuan Bajo in between, swimming laps in the pool, catching up on emails and eating Italian Food. As soon as our friends arrived early morning with their luggage and 700 eggs, we set sail to Wainilu on Rinca Island for our check dive. The diving started out in style, with many mantis shrimps, three ribbon eels, cuttlefish, catfish, ringed pipefish and large schools of cardinalfish.

After the dive, we moored by Pulau Kaaba, from where we could observe hundreds of thousands of large fruit bats flying off in a long trail at sunset towards Flores Island, a truly impressive and unique sight.

Early morning on the next day, Captain Pai expertly manoeuvred us through the very narrow and currenty Molo Strait, between Rinca and Flores, and moored us by the island of Baleh for a day of stunning diving on Baleh Wall, Bommies and Ridge. All three dives were a beautiful introduction to typical South Komodo diving, with its dramatic topography of walls made out of huge rocks with shelves, cracks and overhangs, as well as groups of boulders spread out on the sea bed. All structures are covered very densely in soft corals of all colours and sizes, huge white, green and brown black coral bushes, whips, fans and sponges. Furthermore, every available space is inhabited by tunicates, anemones, crinoids, zooanthids and corallimorphs, leaving hardly a spot to put a stabilizing finger to have a closer look at the marine life, absolutely magnificent!! The character and sheer density of growth on the South Komodo walls, awash with cold water most of the year, reminded us of subtropical diving in places like New Zealand's glorious Poor Knights Islands.

Colourful nudibranchs, shrimps and crabs of many different species crawl all over, cuttlefish and octopi amble about, pygmy sea horses populate the fans, colourful ladybug amphipods hop from tunicate to tunicate, a stunning diversity of reef fish busy themselves around the reef, and the blue is inhabited by large schools of fusiliers, snappers, surgeonfish, triggerfish, giant trevally, mackerel, skipjacks, eagle rays, white tip and black tip reef sharks, and ... many, many manta rays.

Most remarkable about Baleh diving was the huge forest of very long whip corals on Baleh Ridge, claimed by an equally large cluster of schooling bannerfish and yellowtail fusiliers, a most magical sight. We were also lucky to spot a mating couple of Ceratosoma magnificum nudibranchs and a fan with eight Bargibanti pygmy sea horses.

Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti)

Sowalu Bay on Rinca provided safe anchorage for the night and beautiful diving the next day on Rosie's Rock, and Torowalu and Toroamarau Points. Off Torowalu Point, we were impressed by several boulders covered in large white and green black coral bushes, filled densely with glassfish and many species of cardinalfish. The blue was teeming with yellowtail, and blue and yellow fusiliers, skipjacks, surgeonfish, and snappers, patrolled by a few fierce looking giant trevallies. We were glued to the spot in awe for most of the dive.

The night dive in Sowalu Bay surprised us with many white and slender mushroom coral pipefish, cuttlefish, a tiny orange frogfish and a sea cucumber feeding frenzy.

Early next morning we moved to South Rinca, to the gorgeous Horse Shoe Bay, very protected by Nusakode Island, where we had already spent six glorious diving days on the previous trip. Again we would stay for four days diving our favourites: Eagle and Cannibal Rocks, Pelican Head, Yellow Wall, Crinoid Corners, and Boulders, doing our night dives on the critter rich Torpedo Alley and Point, and Cannibal Rock, current permitting. It was like visiting old friends, of whose company one can never get enough.

These sites provide absolutely magnificent diving. The growth on walls, boulders and slopes is tremendously rich and dense as described above, and the whole reef is completely covered in all species of reef fish and fish from the blue, as well as a wealth of invertebrates.

Apart from the lush reefs swarming with life, typical of all the Horse Shoe Bay dive sites, a few special features come to mind. Eagle and Cannibal Rocks were our favourite fish dives. On Eagle Rock we sat in the current for most of the dive, just floating amongst schooling bannerfish, snappers, fusiliers, sweetlips and yellow-mask surgeons, with eagle rays making frequent and close up passes. We also had a great safety stop octopus experience, observing it for ages as it was wandering about over the reef, changing colour and texture, while feeding and chasing intruding groupers and snappers away with its many legs. Cannibal Rock exhibits areas with dense white black coral bushes densely populated by cardinalfish and glassfish. We also enjoyed the company of the two very large resident frogfish, and basked amongst huge, dense schools of blue-stripe snappers and goatfish, and spent our safety stop watching a cuttlefish laying eggs, needless to say, we did not move much on that dive either...

Octopus
South Rinca Reef Scene

Pelican Head displays a deep bommie, which earned the name 'Superbommie', as it is spectacular, even though it is only a tiny pinnacle on the sea bed. It is carpeted in white and green black coral bushes, filled with cardinalfish. A leaffish and two blue ribbon eels also call it home, and Zebra crabs, Bargibanti pygmy sea horses and Coleman shrimps can also be found in the vicinity.

Then there is Pelican Head Deep Wall: A steep wall densely incrusted in large yellow soft corals... Simply to die for...

The Yellow Wall, true to its name, is also packed with yellow soft corals, where we also spotted a green giant frogfish, as well as massive, gorgeous and yummy-looking Roboastra luteolineata nudibranchs.

Not only are the Boulders a dazzling sight, all of them densely enveloped in soft corals, we could also observe jawfish with eggs, and a jawfish building a new home, as well as two feeding solar panel nudibranchs (Phyllodesmium longicirrum). Tom found a striking deep field of giant soft corals and sea pens, both growing right out of the sandy bottom, which now is fittingly called 'Tom's Garden'.

Bobbit Worms were the night dive celebrities. Tom and his film team went back again and again to capture their fluorescent bodies and scary mouths in action.

Only the promise of more superb diving yet to come, could lure us away from Horse Shoe Bay. We crossed over to South Komodo Island and spent the whole next day mesmerised, admiring reef mantas visiting cleaning stations for the duration of entire dives at Manta Alley. They are simply one of nature's most graceful beings.

Sweetlips

The next day was exploratory diving day, and it completely rocked!! We stayed moored at Lehok Sera and dived its two points, of which especially the southern point was absolutely magnificent:

Toro Langkoi Point is gorgeous with a wall all around and a platform at the reef top slightly deeper than safety stop level. The whole reef is a magical and pristine soft coral and fan garden with myriads of fish in the blue, and tons of cleaning stations on the reef top. So, guess who was being cleaned: Majestic reef mantas... and there we were, low on the reef, enjoying a half an hour safety stop with two mantas getting cleaned, floating past us close up, eyeing us with great curiosity... Absolute bliss!

Batu Mandi (the 'Bathing Rock'), also off the Lehok Sera south point, was just as fantastic, albeit a bit exposed, so diving is highly current dependent, but 'Karl the Great' timed it just perfectly, as usual, and provided us with an extraordinary diving experience: Crystal clear water with dazzling deep boulders and (YES!) many reef manta sightings. At one point we were visited by six mantas simultaneously, and had many more additional single close up viewings: We were seemingly mutually curious and eager to make each other's acquaintance... It definitely cannot get much better than this!

A little wreck, very close to our mooring, provided spectacular day and night diving. It is completely wrapped in Xenia soft coral and colourful tunicates. The staghorn coral fields close by are inhabited by mandarin fish, and many cardinalfish species, amongst others, the stunning Pyjama and the endemic Komodo Cardinals.

Slowly navigating our way back north, our next stop was the very scenic Padar Island, where we took turns diving on Gigi Rusak (the 'Broken Tooth'), the Three Sisters and Pillar Steen. Again, we marvelled at the dramatic boulder topography and at the dense growth of tunicates, zooanthids, anemones and sponges amongst the soft corals, fans and crinoids, so colourful and typical of cool water diving, except for the advantage this time of year, that the water was nice and warm...

Oceanic Manta
Feather Stars

Amongst the highlights here were two sightings of Oceanic mantas, a large Marble ray, white tip reef sharks and a Bamboo Shark. The Three Sisters, being three exposed sea mounds, show superb soft coral growth and rich fish life in the current. It was especially nice to see small schools of the very handsome Palette Surgeonfish in the shallows. Gigi Rusak displays a glorious forest of white and green black coral bushes on its outer mini-wall, densely inhabited by glassfish and cardinalfish. There are also many batfish cleaning stations. Finally, Pillar Steen is a great delight for chimney and swim thru lovers, created by the unique giant boulder topography. The boulders themselves were not only smothered in the prevailing yellow soft corals, but also in very dense and beautiful purple ones.

As it rained in the afternoon, our pink beach walk had to give way to a night dive at the Bus Stop, which takes its name from all the stops required during the dive to admire the copious critters.

Mantas were on the diving menu again at our following stop: Karang Gili Makasar. As one can never tire of manta sightings, we spent two dives admiring these magical creatures flying by or circling while getting cleaned, eyeing us inquisitively... Such a huge privilege!

Here's some manta shots from Charlie Schaffer, one of the guests on board:
CLICK HERE: Two days of Manta madness at Karang Makassar, Komodo

The increasing wind chased us away after the second dive, back to the protected waters of Wainilu, on Rinca Island. We were hugely rewarded with two magnificent Harlequin shrimps, a Blue-ringed octopus and a Rhinopias, as well as by snake eels, Bobtail squids, a very cute pink painted frogfish, many nudibranchs, and even a tube anemone in the process of eating a Harlequin shrimp, to only name a few wonderful critters. We were so excited about the Wainilu experience, that we welcomed a repetition on the next day, after a new moon blasting current adventure on the exposed Batu Bolong, where the slack tide window lasted about five minutes. We still managed to have a lot of fun being 'whooshed' about and spotting huge specimens of Napoleon wrasse, white tip reef shark, giant trevally and Malabar grouper, and tons of fish in the blue and lush feeding soft corals. As Lida fittingly sings: "no current, no fish"... it definitely was worth the effort!

As a Grand Finale to a superlative dive journey, Karl offered custom made choices for our last day. The 'Adventurous Rubber Ducky Team' (Vijay, Michael and Wayne) were joined by 'Intrepid South Africa" (Bev, Ken and Rob) to be whooshed about some more in new moon currents on Pengah Kecil Island, led by fearless Karl. Everybody else preferred to relax and go treasure hunting again at Wainilu and Pulau Kecil ('Rasta Point'), lead by eagle-eyed dive guides Irwan and Frengki. We were rewarded again by more Harlequin shrimps, Pegasus sea moths and large cuttlefish, as well as a cute juvenile Barramundi grouper, gorgeous Picturesque dragonets, ornate ghost pipefish and brotulas, amongst many other goodies.

Blue Masked Angelfish
Dragonet

Being a butterflyfish and angelfish lover, I noticed a more frequent occurrence of a few species during this month of superb South Komodo diving, which I had not seen in other areas such as Raja Ampat, Sulawesi or Forgotten Islands:

  • Indian Vagabond Butterflyfish (Chaetodon decussatus)
  • Yellow-Dotted Butterflyfish (Chaetodon selene)
  • Guenther's Butterflyfish (Chaetodon guentheri)
  • Eibl's Angelfish (Cetropyge eibli)
  • White-Tailed Pygmy Angelfish (Centropyge fisheri)
  • Blue-Ringed Angelfish (Pomacanthus annularis)
  • Black Velvet Angelfish (Chaetodontoplus melanosoma)

As well as:

  • Blacktip Sweetlips (Diagramma Melanacra)
  • Komodo Cardinalfish (Ostorhinchus komodoensis)
  • Yellowtail Sawtail (Prionurus chrysurus)

It might be relevant to those of you interested in reef diversity and health, that I was able to count at least 20 different butterflyfish species (indicator species) on most day dives during this trip.

A huge thank you goes to the exceptional Seven Seas Crew, and Cruise Directors Karl and Linda for yet another unforgettable two cruises!! We can only disembark, because we already know when we are coming back!!

An equally huge thank you goes to my dear friends, who honour me with their company on trip after trip, sharing my enthusiasm for the sea and for diving, believing in me! Your friendship is an invaluable treasure in my life!!

After a month on board the Seven Seas, cinematographer Tom Campbell related that this was an exceptional opportunity for people keen on diving South Komodo. The Seven Seas vessel, Crew and Cruise Directors are simply top notch. Their service and attention to detail are as good as I have only seen on the very high-end dive vessels. We especially appreciated the attention and care that was given to our expensive camera equipment, and the company of the guests who joined us on this adventure.

Thank you so much!!

Fat sea hugs and bestest wishes,

Sonia Goggel


Giant Frogfish
Glassfish in Black Coral
Smashing Mantis Shrimp

» Click here to see what our guests had to say about this trip.

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