The Hidden Gems of Komodo and Derawan
With over 18,000 islands to choose from, which ones should you visit for the best diversity in marine life? Discover the beauty of Indonesia with Cat McCann as she takes you on an insider’s journey into the waters of Komodo Island and Pulau Derawan
If you asked a muck-diving enthusiast for their “must-do” list of muck diving destinations, it’s highly likely that places such as the famed black sand sites of Lembeh, Indonesia, would be top of the list. Or they may recommend a visit to Pulau Mabul in Sabah, Malaysia, where the term “muck diving” was first coined. Or perhaps Anilao in the Philippines, which sees hundreds of tourists heading there each year in the hope of seeing a well-hidden frogfish in the sand.
But what about places such as Komodo Island or Pulau Derawan in Indonesia?
“Muck” is not the type of diving that springs to mind when you mention these islands to divers. Komodo, for example, is famed for mantas and currents. And currents are not a diver’s best friend when it comes to looking for small, well-hidden animals, much less when trying to get that perfect shot with a macro lens.
Pulau Derawan is more well-known for its proximity to Pulau Sangalaki, which itself is known for mantas and astounding coral reefs, or for the turtles and whale sharks that can be seen cruising past Derawan itself.
But both of these areas have hidden treasures – incredible muck diving sites that aren’t more widely known, with an incredible array of species that are high on any muck diver’s wish list.
Pulau Derawan is where you will find the aptly named “Macro Mania” dive site, which boasts sightings of Papuan and stumpy spined cuttlefish, as well as pygmy seahorses, robust and slender ghost pipefish. Eagleeyed guides can find several different species of shrimps for their divers: tiger shrimp, donald duck shrimp, sawblade shrimp and whip coral partner shrimp, to name a few.
Prefer cephalopods? No problem. In addition to the cuttlefish, you’re also likely to see mosaic octopuses and wonderpuses on this dive site.
If you’re lucky, you might be able to spot the blue-ringed octopus and if you’re really lucky, the blue-ringed octopus mating.
Derawan Reef is a sloping coral reef but as beautiful as the reef is, ignore it (sorry) and spend the dive in the seagrass and rubble looking for decorator crabs and unusual nudibranchs, as well as seahorses.
A night dive in the seagrass beds off the Scuba Junkie jetty yields bumblebee shrimp, marbled shrimp and the ever elusive harlequin shrimp, as well as frogfish that are sometimes too small to identify correctly. Divers often spend their time watching bobtail squid bury themselves in the sand.
However, Komodo is the place that can give you a real crick in your neck. There are not many places in the world where you are torn between looking at a hairy shrimp or a manta, but at Mawan in Komodo National Park
(KNP) you will find yourself in just such a position.
The KNP is one of the jewels of Indonesia. It was the impressive Komodo dragons that originally drew tourists to this area but it is now famed for strong currents, stunning corals and regular encounters with manta rays.
As the area has grown in popularity over the past decade, a new element of diving has emerged; one that only strengthens the fact that this truly is one of the best dive areas in the world for muck diving.
Karang Makassar (the aptly nicknamed “Manta Point”) is a surprising site that hosts a plethora of rare macro species. As mantas cruise over your head, be sure to check the rubble below for blue-ringed octopuses, hairy octopuses and an incredible number of nudibranchs.
But it’s not just the famous and popular sites where we see such rare species. If you explore the KNP you’ll come across dive sites such as Gindang and Wainilu on the north coast of
Rinca island. These are both hot spots for blue-ringed octopus, Rhinopias, wonderpuses and frogfish. They are also home to the shy and much sought after mandarinfish and photogenic dragonets – a fantastic early morning or sunset dive spot, especially for observing their mating behaviour.
These two sites have sloping sandy bottoms with sprinklings of soft corals. They are also home to seahorses, flamboyant cuttlefish, sea moths and overhead, the odd devil ray or two, and are ample proof of the rich diversity that exists in almost every dive site in Komodo.
For the frogfish fanatics out there, Siaba Besar is a place you must visit. Located in the heart of the Komodo National Park, this seagrass site is the perfect hiding place for the juveniles of several species of frogfish – clown, painted and hairy – some of which that are no bigger than the end of your tank banger.
You can also find ornate, roughsnout, velvet and robust ghost pipefish here too, as well as pipefish and pipehorses. But once again, because this is Komodo, remember to look up now and then as dugongs and eagle rays have also been seen on this dive site. It’s enough to drive you crazy trying to figure out which lens to put on the camera!
Although Komodo and Derawan are relatively new on the muck-diving radar, they should really be on your “must see” list given the biodiversity seen on the different sites alone.
The bonus is that while these sites are easily accessible, they are not wellknown on the muck-diving circuit so you won’t find yourself jostling for space when you want to get a really good look at one of the small, unusual, well camouflaged critters that make muck diving the unique kind of discovery experience that it is.
BELOW: Eggs of a nudibranch situated on a sea squirtOPPOSITE PAGE: Salarias ramosus, starry blennyIMAGES: Bent Christensen