Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saving the Seas of Komodo

Komodo is unique in the world in having two distinct marine habitats - tropical and temperate - a few nautical miles distant from each other. There is a constant flow of the warm tropical waters of the Flores Sea to the north which mix with the cold upwellings brought from the south by the Indian Ocean. The upwellings are caused by deep ocean currents originating in Antarctica which collide with the volcanic shelf of Komodo and surface. The upwellings, combined with the oxygenation occasioned by the fierce currents surrounding Komodo, provide an endless supply of plankton and nutrients to the surrounding seas. This in turn, supports an amazing and colourful profusion of temperate marine life - invertebrate, mammal and fish. A few mile to the north lies an even greater multitude of tropical fish life that are normally found in equatorial waters. All in all, there are over 1000 species of fish and marine mammals found in the waters surrounding Komodo.
Saving the Seas of Komodo
Even WITHOUT a Dragon, Komodo and its surrounding islets would for me still remain a powerful  symbol of that vanishing Garden of Eden deep within our collective memory . With its strange orchids, flying lizards,  forests of giant fan palms and scarcity of man, it seems less like another Place than another Time.  So remote is this tiny island  that it wasn't until l911 that Varanus Komodoensis,  its 10-foot long, running swimming, tree-climbing lizard, was described by science and revealed to the world as  fact rather than myth.

Located at the edge-seam of the world, in no one continent and no one sea, the dragon islands of Komodo National Park are also surrounded by a furious moat  For the Lesser Sunda archipelago, that thin chain of islands stretching east from Bali towards New Guinea, is also the grid which divides the warm shallows of the South China seas, from the cool deeps of the Indian ocean. The ebb and flow between these opposing bodies of water produces not only the protective navigational hazard of tidal races and whirlpools, but also an astounding  mixture of  marine creatures of both warm and cold water, some species having no business to be anywhere near here at all, others found no where else, and many more constantly revealing themselves to be new to science. No less than fifteen different varieties of whales and dolphins have recently been observed  here, from  pods of  shark-eating tropical Orcas, to the two-foot long, exuberantly acrobatic  spinner dolphins.

Whereas the Dragon was only discovered in the first decade of this century, it wasn't until the l960's that it was properly surveyed and studied. In the 1970's it began receiving is first trickle of tourists, and only  the l980's did its waters first  begin being plumbed by SCUBA divers - and now, at the turn of the Millennium, just when we have started to see how mysteriously rich this region is, we find it under threat.  The burgeoning population of Indonesia, the hunger for fish and meat, has brought dynamite and cyanide fisher bandits to Komodo's reefs, and marauding armed poachers seeking the wild deer and pig of the islands, which are the essential life support of the great lizard. Our last dragon, and its moat of marine mysteries, should be passed on, don't you think, to continue to remind  future generations of our earliest beginnings and of that dwindling Garden of Eden within us all?

Lawrence Blair, 
Bali, November 1999 

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