Komodo National Park is a national park consisting of a number of islands in Indonesia. The islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and have been since 1991. They cover about 230 square miles (600 sq. km) of land, and are most well-known as the home of the large Komodo dragon.
Komodo National Park consists of three large islands: Rinca, Padar, and Komodo itself, and a handful of smaller islands. The Komodo National Park was first established in 1980 to help protect the endangered Komodo dragon, in 1991 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 1995 was funded substantially by the American-run Nature Conservancy. Since its founding the scope of Komodo National Park has expanded to protect not only the Komodo dragon, but the biodiversity of the region as a whole, including the marine environment. At times this has led to conflict with local fishermen, and continues to create controversy.
The marine biodiversity of Komodo National Park is one of its main draws. There are numerous coral reefs growing up around the islands, and massive beds of seagrass. The coral reefs contain more than 250 distinct species of coral, as well as over 70 species of sponges. There are numerous species of whale, shark, manta ray, dugong, porpoises, and turtles in the islands, and well over a thousand species of fish. Dangerous fishing practices, including dynamiting and poisoning, have threatened the diversity of the area in recent years, and governmental groups have come down hard on poachers.
Early human settlement on the islands within the Komodo National Park was intermittent, and most people currently living there are from the islands of Manggarai, South Flores, South Sulawesi, or Bima. The native people of Komodo, the Ata Modo, intermingled with the newcomers over the generations, and though their descendants still inhabit the island, the culture has integrated with others over the years. Their early heritage is mostly lost to history, although it is known they were under the control of the Sultanate of Bima, enjoying relative autonomy.
There are currently between three and four thousand people living within Komodo National Park, all within settlements that existed before the islands were declared a national park. The population has grown fairly steadily since the beginning of the 20th century, when it reached a low of less than 50 people.
The Komodo dragon is the reason many tourists visit the Komodo National Park. This creature, the largest living lizard on the planet, can grow up to ten feet (3m) long, and may weigh as much as 200 pounds (90kg). They are fierce predators, and most tourists come to the island to watch them laze about and then feed on goats or deer. People have on occasion been attacked by Komodo dragons, although generally visitors to the island are safe so long as they follow a tour guide and listen to the instructions they’re given.
Most people fly in to Komodo National Park from Denpasar, via Bima or Labuan Bajo. A number of sea connections also exist, although these can take upwards of 36 hours to arrive at the island.