Komodo's Fish Life

Text and photos by Mike Scotland

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If scuba diving is the adventure sport they do in Heaven, then fish watching is one of its great highlights. Diver heaven is right here on Earth at Komodo Marine Park. Her reefs have colours of every hue bursting brightly in profusion in the brilliant life-giving sunshine.  It has an abundance of fish, and much of the rocky surface is covered in hot pink soft coral and red sponges, making a beautiful backdrop for these fish.

I spot a one-metre Java Moray Eel in a coral lair. This is a deadly predator with massive teeth sharp and a terrifying set of pharyngeal jaws; these jaws in the deep throat crush fish up before being swallowed.

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Sweetlips are named after their rubbery, inflated lips and there are over one hundred species of them around the world. In Komodo you can see ten species on a single dive. I cannot recall observing such bio-diversity within this genus on a dive anywhere else in the world. Sweet lips of the genus Plectorhynchus are abundant. The Ribbon Sweet Lip is well adapted to life in strong currents. They like to congregate in large formations often including Diagonal Sweet Lip. Many fish here are so used to divers that they are aware that divers present no danger.  You can approach quite close to them if you go slowly. Large Spotted Sweet Lips hover behind coral heads in the lee of the current. Some coral caves are filled with them.

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Table top Acropora corals grow to several metres across. Many fish like to settle down beneath these sheltered concrete ‘umbrellas’. I wait and watch the fish life beneath one coral table. It takes a while for the fish to resume ‘normal’ behaviour. I see schools of baby Cardinal fish sweeping above the coral and ducking for cover in unison as a predators attack. This dance of life has fascinated me for years. These tiny fish seek refuge in the school, relying on their brilliant reflexes and speed to evade the jaws of death. Only a few will make it to adulthood.

However, the Damselfish overcome the odds with arithmetic precision. They create so many eggs that they out compete the forces of predation and death. Mother Nature has calculated the number of eggs needed to produce the number of offspring to overcome the death rate. She then equips the Damsels with the high reproductive rates needed to survive. It is all a careful balancing act, fine-tuned over millions of years by natural processes. Probability and productivity go hand in hand on these reefs. This is a tiny peek into the intricacies of survival in nature. There is a formula based on birth rate less death rate with the available food resources thrown into the mix and with the probability of survival from predators. It would take a super-computer to calculate the odds in this equation of life. This complex issue has been resolved for millions of species in thousands of ecosystems.

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From and intellectual perspective, diving can provide us with rewarding insights into the mechanisms of ecology and the marvels of procreation. The driving mechanism is evolution. If we have the eyes to see, we can deepen our enjoyment from observing nature. I revel in these little thoughts whilst under the table top coral. The survival of these fish is the greatest drama of the struggle for life and death in the wildest ecosystem on planet earth. We can witness first hand this wild dance of life and death and watch tiny fish in awe with admiration.

Komodo Marine Park is under constant threat from dynamite and cyanide fishing, and poaching. It is protected by a system of Marine Park rangers set up by Marine Biologist, Jos Pet and TNC. It is a brilliant example of the benefit of restoring the marine world from overfishing and destruction by dedicated people willing to fight for conservation. Mother Nature will restore the magnificence of these reefs as long as we give her a chance.

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Ocean Geographic Explorer (OGX) is a diving adventure resource with a special focus on marine photography and ocean conservation. Our content is divided up into six primary categories: Travel, Sea Science,  Equipment, Photography &Video, Conservation, and Lifestyle. We endeavor be a portal for people with all levels of interest in the marine environment  to learn about and become part of a community of like-minded ocean lovers who enjoy sharing their knowledge of and experiences in our fascinating ocean world.

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