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Komodo and the Big Boom

The Komodo National Park is a UNESCO-protected paradise perched in the belly of Indonesia. It is famed for its ferocious dragon first captured on film by Sir David Attenborough and as inspiration for the movie King Kong.

But take a trip under the water and you’ll quickly understand that the Komodo ocean rivals the lizards in terms of tourist draw cards; the cold current brings a rich array of biodiversity. You can see more manta rays than you will anywhere, soft and hard corals and pelagic fish, sharks and turtles. This place is a scuba diver’s dream, consistently ranking in the world’s top dive sites.

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And like any ocean today, especially in those without appropriate protection laws and inhabited by villagers feeding their family through income derived from the sea, comes the issue of overfishing. They fish using intensive methods that draw maximal catch for minimal cost – long lining, non-specific netting. And then there is the absolute nail in the coffin in terms of destroying the environment – dynamite fishing. It is illegal, yet still going on.

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Dynamite fishing 101.

Fishermen put together makeshift dynamite bombs made from glass soda bottles, matches, sand and fertiliser. They throw them to the ocean floor.  Boom. The explosion causes a pressure wave, which stuns all sea life in the area. The stunned victims float to the surface and get collected for sale. These bombs don’t discriminate; they kill whatever they can. The reef gets destroyed, all the corals nearby die. It leaves a coral graveyard that takes over one hundred years to regenerate. If the area is an important cleaning station for animals like sharks and mantas then these animals are forced from the area in the hope of finding somewhere else to have the parasites eaten from their skin.

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Step 1. Prepare the dynamite. Image credit: Drajay1976/wikipedia
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Step 2. Dynamite goes boom. Image credit: Drajay1976/wikipedia
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Step 3. Copious amounts of dead fish float to the surface. Image credit: Drajay1976/wikipedia

The local government is fighting back on this. In 2012, one dynamite fisherman was shot dead and three injured in a battle with local Rangers. The local dive instructors want their children to be able to enjoy this wonderland in twenty years to come.  The more dynamite fishing occurs, the less chance they’ll have for this.  Not to mention, existing industry would suffer tremendously; they would not have the opportunity to foster sustainable methods that protect the waters if they have no healthy life to protect.

  El Ball de Diables (The Dancing of the Devils)

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Fishermen blast fishing off the coast of Indonesia. Image credit: WWF
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Fishermen blast fishing off the coast of Indonesia. Image credit: scubadiving.com

And its not just this recently listed Seven Natural Wonders of the World site that’s suffering, the whole of Asia is being affected by dynamite fishing. In March this year in the Philippines, it was reported that 22 dwarf sperm whales and the same number of dolphins were killed in blast attacks, their meat destined for local fish markets.

Obviously it is a difficult situation to be in, as impoverished fishermen wish to support their loved ones at whatever the cost.  It can be likened to the dancing bears of the Asiatic. Sadly, poverty breeds desperation. And neither the National Park’s status as a protected site since 1991 nor the law can completely stop this activity, despite everyone doing their best.

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But it’s not all bad; the Indonesian government firmly supports the protection of the park and fund extensive marine patrol to discourage illegal fishing and the impact of this has been observed. Local villagers are engaged in community awareness programs on eco-sustainability and research of the area is strongly encouraged. They are on the right track in promoting knowledge and empowerment through working together as a team to ensure the future of the park is bright.

Is there anything we can do about this? Awareness. Be informed. Sign as many petitions as possible, donate to marine conservation organisations with demonstrated results. Get under the sea and become captive to its magic. Sit on the sandy floors and get up close and personal with a gentle manta ray.  Find Nemo. Supporting tourism in a humble way (minus the Bintang shirts and fishbowl cocktails) allows the underprivileged access to an alternative income source. I guarantee you will fall in love with nature just that little bit more.

Alex Brown is a writer and contributor to FLINT. Based in Perth, Australia. 

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