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July 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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First It’s Sharks to Fend Off, Then It’s Lethal Lizards

from the July, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Five divers swept away by strong currents in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park survived 12 hours in the water before scrambling onto a remote island where they faced an equally big threat: the Komodo dragon. After landing on the island of Rinca, the divers — three from Britain and one each from France and Sweden — came face-to-face with the giant lizard. They fought it off by pelting it with rocks and pieces of wood.

Komodo dragons can grow up to 10 feet long. They have sharp, serrated teeth and come out when they smell something new, including humans — whom they’ve been known to attack (Sharon Stone’s ex-husband got his big toe severely bitten by one during his private tour at the Los Angeles Zoo) and kill.

On Thursday morning, June 5, the divers, part of a group dive with Reefseekers Dive Centre on Flores Island, left Labuanbajo Harbor on a wooden boat. They jumped in near Tawa Besar, immediately encountered rough currents and drifted 20 miles from the dive site. The group struggled against the rip for several hours but eventually stopped swimming and tied themselves together by their BCDs to preserve energy. Late on Thursday night, they saw Rinca. “If we’d continued to drift, it would have been the ocean,” French diver Laurent Pinel, 31, told London newspaper The Times. “But we were exhausted. Everyone had cramps.”

Once on the island, they scraped mussels from the rocks for food and had to fend off the persistent dragon for 36 hours. On Saturday, one of the 30 boats searching the waters spotted them waving frantically on shore and took them to Flores Island for minor treatment. “We’re safe, but absolutely exhausted and dehydrated,” said 25-year-old British diver Charlotte Allin.

Komodo’s unpredictable currents can be as scary as its dragons. It’s in a place where the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet, and while that makes for incredible marine diversity, it also creates “washing machine” currents that converge and separate. Whirlpools and eddies can pull people downwards, so it’s a place only for experienced divers.

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