KOMODO ISLAND: Coral gardens that were among Asia's most spectacular, teeming with colorful sea life just a few months ago, have been transformed into desolate gray moonscapes by illegal fishermen who use explosives or cyanide to kill or stun their prey.
The site is among several to have been hit inside Komodo National Park, a 500,000-acre reserve in eastern Indonesia that spans several dusty, tan-colored volcanic islands.
The area is most famous for its Komodo dragons, the world's largest lizards, and its remote and hard-to-reach waters also burst with staggering levels of diversity, from corals in fluorescent reds and yellows to octopuses with lime-green banded eyes to black-and-blue sea snakes.
Dive operators and conservationists say Indonesia's government is not doing enough to keep illegal fishermen out of the boundaries of the national park, a U.N. World Heritage site.
They say enforcement declined greatly following the exit two years ago of a U.S.-based environmental group that helped fight destructive fishing practices.
Local officials disagree, pointing to dozens of arrests and several deadly gunbattles with suspects.
Sustyo Iriyono, the head of the park, said problems are being exaggerated and denied claims of lax enforcement.
He said rangers have arrested more than 60 fishermen over the past two years, including a group of young men captured last month after they were seen bombing fish in waters in the western part of the park.
"You see?" said Iriyono. "No one can say I'm not acting firmly against those who are destroying the dive spots!"
He added that the park is one of the few places where fish bombing is monitored with any regularity in Indonesia, a Southeast Asian nation of more than 17,000 islands. (AP/T06)
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