Bubble Coral Shrimp, Komodo

The Seven Seas News - March 2014

South Komodo with Mark Heighes - Second Wetpixel Charter (February 2014)

Photos by Jason Bradley, www.BradleyPhotographic.com

South Komodo has never been a really wet place during the wet season. The big neighboring islands of Sumbawa and Flores seem to attract most of the clouds and leave the Komodo islands in a rain shadow. If it does rain it's usually during the night. Showers during the day usually last less than an hour or two.

We are on our 2nd Wetpixel Trip for the month of February. The group landed on time, using the early morning Garuda flight from Bali. Garuda have only just started to fly into Komodo airport and what a breath of fresh air it has been. With a dive gear allowance of 35 kilos and we have not had to pay excess since we started using them. Group check-in makes it quick, easy and stress free.

We have 14 divers loaded up with camera gear as only a Wetpixel group can be. Most had never been to Komodo before and seemed to be very excited. When I explained that we were going to do 3 dives before the day was out they became even more excited and ready to go. So we headed out to Wainilu to get started with critters. Wainilu is located in north Rinca and only two hours from port, and it's the sort of site where you can find just about any critter you can imagine. You name it and its been seen there! We were not to be disappointed and everyone came back with lots of goodies on their camera except for one unfortunate chap who flooded his housing on the first dive of the trip. Ouch!



The next day we visited the Komodo dragons early followed by another dive on Wainilu. Over lunch we changed lenses to wide and headed up to Komodo to see if we could find any Manta Ray action as the tidal cycle was looking good and would improve our chances. We were in luck and had 4 manta mania dives into the next day with the highlight being dive number 3 encountering up to 50 individuals lined up to be photographed. Up with the anchor and we followed the tide South to Padar. We stopped in a new area, then sent a small group ashore to capture some topside images of the sheer natural beauty the island has to offer during sunset. While the shore party were keen to shoot into the darkness we offered an exploratory night dive that turned out to be a winner for all involved.

We awoke the next morning in Padar to another stunning day. The atmosphere was so clear we could see the island of Sumba on the horizon. Sumba lays 60 nautical miles to the south of us and can seldom be seen from Komodo. Not only was the vis good topside, things were looking real good underwater as well - so we had a great morning dive in crystal clear water. The highlight being more mantas only a different species, they were Mobula mantas gliding effortlessly around us in loose formations.


As good as it was, the word going around was Canibal Rock. This site has been in great form for the last few months and the previous group did 16 dives on it. The word had got out! So over breakfast we relocated to horseshoe bay in South Rinca, home of Canibal Rock. I'm not going to describe the dives in detail but Canibal Rock was our first dive in Horseshoe Bay and only dive site we visited for two days. Nobody showed any interest in checking out any of the other 5 sites we had on offer until day 3 in Horseshoe Bay. I guess the most frequently asked question from photographers is "Which lens should I put on?" Well, down in South Rinca, in good vis, it simply does not matter. Chances are you will come back with good results.

Apart from the wild Dragons that roam the beach at our anchorage in Horseshoe bay, the happy friendly atmosphere onboard seems to be catching on as we now have a resident bird living onboard that hops around cleaning up all the crumbs. Also a pet Giant Trevally that lives under the boat. Wild Eagles to feed on snacks offered by the crew and best of all we have the whole area to ourselves as the rest of the live aboard fleet are competing for dive sites in Raja Ampat.



After a fun filled three days, we headed out to Gilimota to dive a few of our new sites in that area. Unfortunately the vis let us down there, however everyone seemed to enjoy the diving that day. We decided to go back to horseshoe bay for another day and then finish the trip in Padar and re-visit the area where we had the exploratory night dive earlier in the trip. It was definitely worthy of more exploration.

The visibility in Padar was excellent. The Three Sisters were looking real good so we spent the whole day on them. We only had one full day of diving left so first dive, I decided, we would do on the new area. One always knows when you are diving an untouched area for the first time as soon as you enter the water., the fish are absolutely terrified and dart around in confusion not knowing what to do about the strange looking intruders. About 10 minutes into the dive I had a squadron of 30 Mobulas on what seemed to be a cleaning station. By the end of the dive and some distance from our point I surfaced on what looked like a good area for critters too...



Everyone was keen to go back in. The Mobulas were still on the point and we needed to get Franky and Irwan down on the potential critter site. We split the group and no one saw any Mobulas on the point but Franky and his group had a field day on the critter site with frogfish, seahorses, solar powered nudibranch, unusual yet to be identified mantis shrimp, pipefish of various kinds, and the list goes on. Needless to say we did dive number 3 and a night dive on the same site. And you know how it goes. Dive number 3 everyone was swimming around with their heads in the sand armed with macro lenses while Mobulas were swiming around and above us...

The night dive was an absolute cracker. Everyone was ecstatic so we tossed a few names around the dinner table that night and came up with Midnight Alley. The Mobula site was named Point Mobula. I feel sure that as the rays will become accustomed to divers, we will be able to visit the site and have close encounters with the squadron. We checked Point Mobula several times over two days and they always seemed to be hanging out there.



Next day was our last so we decided to make it a full one. We started with a dive at Secret Garden, then climbed Strawberry Rock, cruised the whirlpools of the notorious Selat Molo by speedboat, hoisted the sails, visited a village, then had a farewell barbecue on the beach. A great time was had by both passengers and crew. I am looking forward to my next trip to South Komodo as I still have lots of new places on the list of sites to be explored. Need to find time to do more diving on the South side of Komodo proper too...

A big thank you goes out to both Wetpixel groups who were an absolute pleasure to have onboard and our crew who still always never cease to amaze me.

Mark Heighes, South Komodo, February 2014



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Want to see more of Jason Bradley's photos? See his Facebook gallery from this trip.

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