Komodo National Park is one of the most beautiful places to dive. The park contains a wide variety of dive sites, from which you can view a stunning variety of fish life.
However, the very location that spawns this biodiversity can also spawn interesting, and potentially, dangerous currents. The islands are located between the Flores Sea and the Savu Sea, and form the only gap in a huge land barrier. Which is great for fish, but it does mean that water can move in, shall we say, unusual and unexpected ways.
Inexperienced divers can easily get into some real trouble, and a good guide is your best bet. However, it’s also a good idea to know at least the basics about how the currents and tides here can affect your dive, so that you know when the best time is to dive. There are a few things you should bear in mind:
Tides are absolutely key. Because of the way the islands are arranged, water generally moves from south to north during a rising tide, and from north to south during a falling tide. Basically, the Flores Sea is ‘higher.’ Unless you’re on the north side of Komodo, at which point the rising tide flows east to west and the falling tide west to east. The falling tide tends to be stronger. For some of Komodo’s dive sites, thus, there are ideal times to dive…and times when you really don’t want to be in the water. And not because of the sharks (there are sharks in the park, but attacks are vanishingly rare).
Some sites, such as Tukoh-serikaya and Tanjung Rusa are recommended for dives only during slack tide. Other sites may be better when the tide is falling or rising. As tide times vary, you should be flexible about your dive times and, above all, listen to your guide. Sometimes the slack tide period can be non-existent.
Then, there are longshore currents, which can be more powerful than the tides at some sites, such as Tatawa Besar. One of the biggest dangers in Komodo is downward currents from tides, for which Nisaleme Island is particularly notorious. These ‘downdrafts’ can get even an experienced diver in trouble. An upward rising current can be just as dangerous, increasing your risk of getting the “bends.” The currents in small bays can actually go the opposite direction. Tidal currents also tend to go along or even away from the shore in the area, which means that going with the current is not likely to get you to land (or back to the boat).
And sometimes even experienced guides who have the trip well planned can discover that the currents are just, well, not behaving. The interactions of gravity and terrain can advance or delay the change of tide.
A good guide may delay the dive time to wait for a better current, or change your dive site. This is something you should be ready for. Avoid guides that rely too much on dive tables and are worried about getting you your lunch at a certain time.
Does the Date Matter?
Why yes, it does. Or, to be more precise, the position of the moon matters. Full and new moon bring spring tides, which are the most powerful, with the highest tidefall. This happens because the sun and the moon align, and the sun’s tidal force strengthens the moon’s, creating stronger tides. It’s easier, thus, to dive more complicated and dangerous sites when the moon is at half. Plan your trip accordingly.
Avoid super moons. They just make everything worse. Unless you’re a true adrenaline junkie.
Because Komodo is a tropical location, the time of year has little effect on the tides. Spring tides are not named for the season at all, but for the way the water springs up onto the shore…or through a narrow strait.
How can you Spot Dangerous Currents?
There are a few things you can do to identify potentially dangerous currents. The simplest for a newer diver is to watch the fish. ‘Fish tornados’ are a known phenomenon, and indicate a very powerful vertical current. More likely, though, you will see fish swimming erratically and at odd angles. They don’t want to be pulled away by the current either, and will be taking steps to avoid it. Also be careful at the corner of a reef, where up and down currents are more likely.
It’s also generally a good idea to let somebody else go first if you are a weaker or less experienced diver who may be more likely to panic if caught in a bad current.
What if I'm an Inexperienced Diver?
Some sites are not recommended for inexperienced divers, but in most cases your guide should be able to find a place you can dive safely. Always remember that weather and unpredictable currents can affect your trip. The most important thing is to be honest about your experience and your comfort level. You need to make sure that your guide knows what you can and cannot handle and be ready to signal if things are getting too intense.
If your guide tells you you can’t dive right now or can’t do a certain dive, listen to them. They know the water and many of the best ones have been doing this for years. However, despite the intensity of many of Komodo’s dive sites, it is possible for total beginners to start their scuba adventure here.
If you are a good diver but rusty, consider taking a refresher course, which some dive operators also offer. A good instructor will test your skills before letting you dive a more dangerous site, and if you are going for a liveaboard, make sure the first day includes a check dive where guests will be evaluated properly.
Diving in Komodo is a fantastic adventure, and with a reputable guide, you can safely explore this underwater paradise. Make sure that you are aware of your own skills, listen to your guide, and understand that dive times may have to change for your safety (and to increase your chance of seeing sharks and manta rays).