Whispered rumors had been circulating for months of large schools of dead fish drifting with the currents, or the sound of distant thunder beneath the waves. Then, in early 2012, divers returned to shore with tragic reports of significant bomb damage on Cannibal Rock, one of Komodo National Park's most famous dive sites. Fearing that Komodo's future was at stake, members of the local community decided to take action*, calling for stronger enforcement and conservation efforts.
Even amongst the rich waters of the Coral Triangle, eastern Indonesia's Komodo National Park is a biodiversity oasis. A designated UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New 7 Wonders of nature, Komodo boasts some of the richest and most abundant marine habitats on Earth.
Komodo National Park Authority responded promptly to protect the environments under their care from future damage. On March 26 enforcement officers intercepted a boat suspected of blast fishing within the park. The fishermen ignored repeated demands to stop, and the ensuing 2-hour pursuit culminated with officers opening fire, killing one and injuring three of the suspects.
Hard line responses such as this send a clear message that bomb and cyanide fishing will not be tolerated in Komodo. But is reactive or preventative policing the more effective strategy? After all, these bombs have already decimated protected habitats that once attracted diving tourists from around the world.
And blast fishing is not the only threat to Komodo's underwater riches. While tourism growth offers a much needed boost to local economies, it also brings impacts of its own. This author has witnessed well-known dive boats dropping heavy lead anchors on to delicate reefs, ostensibly to aid less competent divers in coping with Komodo's dramatic currents. With several boats visiting these sites every day, the resulting damage soon takes its toll, with vibrant and complex reefs quickly transformed into barren rubble fields and bare rock.
Some of these issues are relatively easy to tackle: regular patrols and positive policing approaches would help reduce destructive fishing, while heavy anchors could be replaced by permanent buoy lines (aesthetically unappealing!) or selecting dive sites more suitable for divers' experience levels. Other issues are more complex, requiring united approaches and commitment from all stakeholders.
But one thing is fundamentally clear: there is immense local pride in Komodo National Park, and considerable support for protecting this natural national asset to provide benefits to both people and nature. This pride is a valuable tool that could be harnessed by management agencies to strengthen both reactive and preventative conservation approaches. After all, we each have a role to play in preserving our planet.