Here Be Dragons – Introducing Komodo National Park

In a time when the shape of the world and its boundaries were shrouded in mystery, ancient mariners and map-makers would scrawl the warning “Here be dragons.”  along the borders of their parchment charts.  The indication of giant lizards and sea serpents was intended to serve as a warning for fellow explorers, suggesting that what lay in the unexplored regions of the earth was as terrifying as it was enticing.

For some maritime adventurers the presence of dragons did not serve as a deterrent, but rather as an enticement.   Ancient dragon lore told of  ferocious and fanciful beasts that had a taste for treasure.   Many early explorers shared the dragon’s hunger for riches, and were eager to discover what valuables these dragons might be protecting in the world that laid beyond all known boundaries.

But as time went by and the strange became familiar, references to these fantastical creatures disappeared from nautical charts.  However, dreamers of dragons needn’t despair, for in at least one little–known corner of the earth, there truly are formidable dragons to be found, and indeed they protect an incredle treasure trove.

In a little known spot tucked away along a swath of Indonesian islands lie the Komodo dragons, the world’s largest living lizards. They exist nowhere else on earth.  The legend linking dragons to fortune holds true in the case of the case of the Komodo, for this King of the Lizards indeed holds reign over a vast kingdom, an array of natural riches.

The Komodo dragon’s  domain is a beautiful and bountiful landscape, home to terrestrial and marine ecosystems of staggering wealth and biodiversity, crowned by the dazzling jewels of its colorful coral reefs.  Perhaps we should pay homage to this lizard king, for without him, the natural riches of the unique ecosystem he inhabits might have gone the way of the dinosaur. Discovery and protection of this unique creature has mushroomed into a recognized need to protect the area and its inhabitants.

Despite the seemingly sparse exterior of Komodo National Park, a wealth of interesting flora and fauna inhabit both its land and waters. The rugged hillsides of dry savannah and pockets of thorny green vegetation and mangroves contrast starkly with pristine pink  beaches and the turquoise waters surging over coral.  In the upcoming blogs showcasing the wonders of the park, you will find that there is nothing about Komodo that isn’t extraordinary.

KINGDOM OF THE KOMODO

Komodo National Park is located between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores in Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands region.  The park comprises of a coastal section of western Flores, the three larger islands of Komodo, Padar, Rinca, and 26 smaller islands.  The Park protects both land (603 km²) and marine (1214 km²) environments, protecting  a total area of 1,817 km².

A NEW 7th WONDER

Althought the Park was originally created to protect the Komodo dragons, the park now protects a variety of terrestrial and marine inhabitants.

1915 Dragons first formally protected

1938 Nature Reserves established on Padar and Rinca Islands

1965 Nature Reserve extended to Komodo Island

1977 UNESCO  Man and Biosphere Reserve

1980 National Park established

1991 UNESCO World Heritage Site

2005 ASEAN Heritage Park

2011 New 7 Wonders of Nature

CHANGING WITH THE SEASONS

Komodo’s climate can be divided into two seasons: “wet” and “dry.”  The “dry season” lasts from April to October, when the mean daily temperature hovers around 40°C and dry southeast trade winds from Australia bring very little moisture to the area. November to March is the “wet season” where the northwest monsoon blows in from Asia. Even in the wet season, most of the rain will drop over western Indonesia before it reaches the Park, which only receives between 800mm and 1000mm of rain annually.

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE…

The Komodo region is one of the driest areas of Indonesia. A lack of rainfall means there are precious few water sources that can provide fresh water to the park’s inhabitants. Different temperatures and humidity during the year greatly influence the means of survival for villagers, as well as the Komodo dragon’s choice of habitat and range throughout the seasons.

TOUGH TERRAIN

Upon first sight of the park, one would be forgiven for thinking they had arrived there in a time machine, for the rugged mountainous savanna invokes a strong image of the Jurassic Era. The park’s precipitous topography is dominated by a range of rounded hills crowned by deep and rocky gullies.The generally steep and rugged terrain reflects the position of the national park within the active volcanic ‘shatter belt’ between Australia and the Sunda Shelf. Komodo, the largest island, was probably the first to form from volcanic activity in the Jurassic Era about 130 to134 million years ago.

THE SCHOOL OF ROCK

Komodo’s relatively young islands were formed partly by volcanic eruptions and partly by old coral reefs, which are constantly changing by rising, eroding, and subsiding into the sea. Most of western Komodo Island is made from masses of volcanic rock flanked by sandstone, and conglomerates of limestone, sandy shale, and clay. Eastern Komodo Island and neighboring Padar and Rinca are mainly very steep hills of limestone formed from fossilized coral.

DRAMATIC COASTLINES AND DREAMY BEACHES

The park’s rough and irregular coastline is characterized by numerous bays, beaches, and inlets separated by headlands which are often sculpted with dramatic sheer cliffs falling vertically into the sea. Amongst this rugged landscape, soft, sandy beaches are found in sheltered bays, such as the famous Pantai Merah, or “Pink Beach.”

SURROUNDING WATERS

The deserted, dry islands of Komodo stand in stark contrast with the waters that surround them, which are vibrant with exotic marine life.  Komodo National Park is known for its  ferocious dragons, but among scuba divers the park is more famous for its fierce currents, riptides and whirlpools. These strong, coursing currents bring in rich nutrients from the deep seas to support the diverse marine life of the reefs. With a knowledgable guide, snorkelers and divers of all levels can safely enjoy Komodo’s extensive reefs and discover the rich marine diversity that the “Coral Triangle” has to offer.

VEGETATION

There are over 254 plant species of Asian and Australian origin in Komodo National Park. The dominant trees in the savanna are lontar palms and jujubi trees, both important shade producers. Komodo dragons, which are strictly carnivorous, do not eat any of the vegetation. However, the main prey of the Komodo dragon, such as deer and wild boar, feed on the various leaves, fruit, flowers, roots and grasses found within the park.

TROPICAL SAVANNA

More than 70% of the park is open grass-woodland savanna, made up of scattered trees and drought-resistant grasses that are formed and maintained by fires and extreme drought.  The tall savanna grasses also provide a perfect hiding place for the crouching Komodo to ambush their unsuspecting prey.

MAGICAL MANGROVES

Coastal vegetation includes mangrove forests, which generally appear in the sheltered bays of the larger islands. Mangroves act as a nursery and feeding ground for juvenile fish and shrimp and provide habitat for crustaceans, mollusks, and snakes. Seabirds and bats use mangroves for resting and breeding grounds and sometimes long-tailed macaques find food and shelter in mangrove trees. People also benefit from mangroves by having clean seawater, a source of seafood, building material, food, fuel and medicine.

LIFE AMONGST THE MONSTERS

In Komodo Park, there are four small villages with about 5,000 inhabitants.  With its lack of fresh water, rough terrain, unforgiving currents, and those pesky dragons, it’s a wonder anyone would ever settle in such harsh conditions.  However, there is evidence that Komodo’s current residents are descendants of exiles from Bima, who migrated more than a hundred years ago. About  97% of the income in the villages comes from fishing. However, some villagers are able to make a living harvesting seaweed, carving wood  and trading pearls to visitors in the park.

MUCH MORE TO DISCOVER…

Stay tuned for upcoming blogs that delve into the fascinating world of the Komodo Dragon,  the brave island people who live amongst these prehistoric creatures, and more on trekking and hiking the savanna hills of Komodo on your next Sea Trek Sailing Adventure