Attention Shark Lovers! This one’s for you…

All over the globe, there are divers and adventurers who are completely obsessed with sharks. They’re the ones avidly watching shark videos and writing ‘swimming with sharks’ as an item on their bucket lists. They’re the ones researching tropical destinations, chartering boats to shark-infested waters, booking tours to see baby sharks, and they’re most often recognised dropping into the ocean with the hopes and dreams of encountering these eerie, powerful beasts one on one.

Sharks, more than any other creature, completely polarise their audience. They’re an obsession for some – while they repulse others. But there’s something incredible about coming face to snout with any type of shark. It triggers in divers the most base of emotions. A prehistoric feeling that every sentient being experiences at some time during life; that humbling moment when our position on the food chain shifts and we sense ourselves as prey.

Even with those species of sharks classified as ‘non dangerous’ there’s a touch of fear, excitement and nervousness as you jump in to meet the hunters in their own environment. Your heart rate increases and your air use goes up. Some people freeze, some get reckless, some panic and others just watch, minds blown at the beauty, the grace and the sleek muscled speed of these creatures.

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Don’t Let A Fear Of Sharks Stop You!

Despite the fanfare, the truth about diving with sharks is that you learn to set aside everything you once knew about yourself. If you were unlucky enough to be ruined by watching a certain infamous shark movie as a youngster, you learn to put aside the irrational fear that there’s a giant in the water ‘out to get you’.

If you’re a surfer who has seen the damage to others’ boards and bodies from ill-fated and unlucky attacks – you’ll learn that the experience is totally different from 30 meters under the water.

And, if you’re an intrepid traveller or adventure junkie, you’ll learn that one shark is never enough. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself travelling the tropics in search of bigger sharks, different species and more close encounters.

This is partly how I found myself on The Mantra; a luxury Indonesian live-aboard with two fellow shark obsessives, and the lofty goal of encountering Scalloped Hammerheads. We journeyed through Raja Ampat and Maluku then over the Banda and Flores Sea. During our three weeks on board we were diving every day, and were lucky enough to experience some ‘up close and personal’ encounters with sharks of all sizes. However, there was one morning I’ll never forget. Check out the video below and you’ll see what I mean.

Finding The Famous Hammerheads

For days, we were earnestly searching the Banda Islands for Hammerhead sharks, which are famous for their mallet shaped head and wide set eyes. There was a spot renowned for their presence, a deep dive that our computers protested, but we visited twice anyway without joy. Of course, nothing is guaranteed in the deep blue sea, so I wasn’t too upset. After all, we were regularly coming across white tips, black tips and the occasional grey shark, so I was getting in some fin time and improving my diving skills regardless. Over my short shark-diving career I’ve learned to relax more and more. The dives on the Mantra were an extension of that progress. Their excellent instructor had me using less weight, less air and having more fun than ever before.

Two days after these initial investigative deep dives we reached the third in a small series of volcanic islands. We anchored just after dawn and as the crew began to prepare breakfast, a boat of local fisherman came out to the Mantra for a visit. We’d been impressed by the previous day’s sighting of venomous sea snakes in the sulfur-ridden coral, but I had let go of the idea of seeing Hammerheads. Despite my doubts, the locals insisted that this island was rich with the species, so our Dive Instructor made the decision to jump before eating breakfast. We took the dingy and the three of us kitted out with cameras and dark glasses to block out the glare of the early morning sun which shone directly down upon us, illuminating the clear water and welcoming us into the tenth day of our trip.

A Casual School Of Sixty Hammerheads

We jumped and headed down to about thirty meters; the reef at this site was the opposite from the previous day’s post apocalyptic landscape. It was stunning – as it had been through most of the region. The area was rich with a variety of reef and pelagic fish plus a range of healthy corals. The sun was a bright globe above the surface giving us a well-lit visibility of about 15-20 meters and beaming light directly onto us as we saw the first of three schools of Scalloped Hammerhead sharks approach.

In popular culture, sharks are often said to swim in packs, but this really was a school. They were all sizes, males, pregnant females and even the occasional juvenile. Three groups with at least twenty Hammerheads per group lazily swam above us. They were going about their business as if a trio of mesmerised divers were not hovering just ten meters beneath them.

Some broke off from the pack to check us out with the sharp rudder-like movement that their heads allow. Their eye placement offers panoramic vision, so I knew they could see us, just as well as we could see them, but I didn’t feel fear. Instead I felt wonder at the beauty of these animals passing by so casually. They were taking their time in a migration to the next spot and nothing was going to hurry them along.

Hammerhead Sharks tend to hunt alone at night but often travel in packs or schools during the day, and while it was the first time for me, this was the largest number of sharks the others had seen at one time too. This is notable as unlike me, they are veterans with 5,000 dives between them.

But of course, like every experience, it had to come to an end. After shooting video and literally beaming into our regulators we surfaced grinning and went back to the beautiful Mantra with our minds blown and our tummies hungry for hot coffee and fresh fruit.

Seven Cool Things About Hammerheads

An Internet search will uncover pages of species and extinction information – it’s enough to keep you busy all day, so here are a few interesting facts about Hammerhead Sharks to whet your appetite. Yes, by now you can tell I’m a shark nerd of the worst type.

  1. Their favourite feast is the stingray and they scan the bottom at night using their heads like metal detectors, eventually digging out the stunned rays from under the sand.
  2. They are chivalrous, travelling in schools of 100 or more to protect the females who would be bombarded with males if they were swimming alone. In a large school, the female selects the ‘safe males’ she wants to have around her.
  3. Hammerheads are cannibals, sometimes eating their young or smaller species of Hammerheads without care to common parental manners.
  4. There are nine identified types of Hammerhead shark, the largest can grow up to 20 feet long, or six meters and weigh up to 1,000 pounds or 450kg.
  5. They are viviparous which means 20-50 pups will grow inside the female shark at once, the mother doesn’t care for them after birth, the pups simply huddle together for safety until they are big enough to hunt.
  6. They can tan! The different colours of the Hammerhead’s dorsal area are known to darken with sun exposure or to camouflage them from predators while their bellies remain pale.
  7. In Hawaiian legend, they are the most respected sharks of the ocean, children born with the Hammerhead as their birth sign are expected to become warriors.

Why You Must Go Diving On The Mantra

 I can’t emphasise enough how incredible my experience with Hammerheads and Mantra Dive and Sail was, so make sure you snap up every opportunity to see these beautiful creatures in the flesh. For me, the Mantra was the perfect boat to host my trip. Everything from the diving and the island adventures was top notch. Luckily, their team regularly takes out private charters, or you can book a double cabin on a scheduled trip. Get in touch with the guys at the links above.

 

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Komodo National Park Marine Conservation Program

In grandfather’s day, you just left a piece of deer for the dragon. Now, locals working for Komodo National Park have their hands full protecting the environment from threats like bombs and deliberate cyanide poisoning. It is a tough and sometimes controversial job, but their efforts are making a huge difference.

People here have been looking out for Komodo dragons for centuries. Because they revered the enormous lizards, locals traditionally left a portion of the hunt behind for the ancient beasts. Local taboo prohibited harming a Komodo dragon. As a result of this spirit of conservation, Komodo National Park is only place the Komodo Dragons have survived. A few decades ago, the government formalized protection for the lizards and extended that protection to the marine environment.

History of Komodo National Park

While the locals observed varying degrees of protection of their own including some formal legal protections as far back as 1938, official protection of the Komodo National Park by the national government  was established by Minsterial Decree in 1980. Then the government quickly expanded Komodo Park from 72,000 hectares to 219,322 hectares. The expansion added 130,177 hectares of marine reserve, forming the Komodo Biosphere Reserve and National Park, which is 70% water. This immense conservation area protects key habitat and bio-diversity at the center of the Coral Triangle.

Komodo National ParkA

In 1986, two years after the Komodo Marine Conservation Area was added to the park, the UN declared the Komodo National Park a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve Site. Five years later in 1991, UNESCO declared the Komodo National Park to be a World Heritage Site.

Marine Bio-Diversity in Komodo National Park

And it is no wonder. The waters of Komodo National Park provide a safe environment for 260 species of coral and 70 varieties of sponges. Over 1,000 species of bony fishes along with mollusks, crustaceans, turtles, dolphins, whales, dugongs, and invertebrates round out the amazing underwater bio-diversity in the park.

Here is a very partial Komodo National Park species list:

Frogfish, waspfish, indian walkman, Spanish mackerel, tuna,  napoleons, mantas, coleman shrimps, crinoid shrimps, zebra crabs, ghost pipefish, decorator crabs, moray eels, cuttlefish, seahorses, feather stars, scorpion fish, frogfish, lots of species of octopus, fusiliers, surgeon fish, flatworms, turtles, sea snakes, bumphead parrotfish, nudibranches, and literally over 1,000 more.

Reef at Komodo National Park

Population Growth in Komodo National Park

Population has grown immensely in the Komodo Islands over the last 100 years. In the 1930s, there were less than 100 people in Komodo village and around 250 total on Rinca Island. By 1999, the population of Komodo grew to over 1,000. The total population of the park is now over 3,000 with another 16,000 or so people living nearby. With few economic alternatives, more people yields more risk of environmentally destructive resource harvesting practices.

Threats to Komodo National Park

Direct human activity is the biggest threat to the park, outside the long term threat of global warming and coral bleaching. Local fishing practice might seem to the main culprit, but remember: where there is  a seller, there is a buyer. The markets for the fish are arguably as much or more to blame for environmental impacts of destructive, unsustainable fishing practices.  Mark you: these fishing methods are good for no one. Not even the people who practice them. Because they are working themselves out of a job every day they go out to destroy the resource that they rely on.

The environment in the park continues to thrive. But park authorities must remain vigilant to protect the health of the coral reef and the ecosystem that depends on it. Here are a few of the biggest threats.

Blast Fishing

This destructive practice eliminates reef by literally blowing it up. Fisherman mix fertilizer chemicals and kerosone in beer bottles and explode the home made bombs on reefs to stun schooling fish. Tragically, a single bottle bottom can wipe out a 5 meter circle of reef. Fortunately, governments are catching on. Environmental research and advocacy organizations have shown that blast fishing cause $100,000 in economic losses for every square kilometer people are allowed to do it.

Cyanide Fishing

Cyanide fishing divers use simple rigs involving a hose to the surface and a compressor called “hookah compressors”. The divers scour the sea floor for their targets – species for the live food fish trade and the aquarium trade. They chase their prey to holes in the reef, then stun it by squirting it with cyanide. Once they have stunned the fish, they dig into the reef to retrieve it.

Reef Gleaning

For eons people have walked on the shallow reef, picking through the coral on low tide for delicious and weird things to eat. Now, the hookah compressor allows reef gleaners to slowly make their way through underwater reef. As the pay they reduce it to rubble with crowbars in their quest for abalone and other invertebrates.

Live Reef Fish Trade

The demand for live reef fish has been booming since the 1990s. Indonesia is the largest supplier of live caught food fish, providing over 50% of live fish. Restauranteurs present the fish in tanks in and serve them to customers for $100s of dollars per serving. The people who pay for this privilege are paying to destroy irreplaceable habitat. Cyanide fishing damages the coral. Over-fishing of adults and depletion of juveniles threatens the very existence of the target species.

Mantra Guests Support Komodo National Park

When you book a cabin to sail to the Komodo Islands for a liveaboard adventure with Mantra, or reserve a private Komodo charter voyage you will contribute to conservation efforts in the park. Each day we will collect a fee of  € 10 per person per day to pass along to the park management. When you come to the Komodo, you will encounter a pristine and thriving environment. We applaud the government and the people of Indonesia and their efforts to preserve this amazing resource.

Dreaming of an exotic sailing and diving adventure in paradise? Find out about Komodo dive sites or get an idea of the Komodo liveaboard trip experience and then come join us for a voyage you will remember forever.

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