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'Seventeen Islands' and corals

The sub district of Riung, along the northern coast north of Bajawa has beautiful coral gardens in the national park 'Seventeen Islands', and thousands of flying dogs (kalong). Nangamese (also known as Riung), with it's population of 1,500, is the biggest village in the sub district. A few tourists go there, but it has a stark resemblance with Labuhanbajo in the 1980's, before watching Komodo dragons became popular on the island.


The population of Riung is a mixture of Islamic Buginese and Catholics from the hinterlands. Corn and rice of catholic farmers are added to the fish of the Islamic fishers. The farmers export copra, coconuts, dried fish, tripang and tuna. The women weave typical sarongs of the Riung-area, with yellow and red flowers on a blue-black background. They are not very cheap to buy.

There are rumors that Komodo dragons are hiding in a cave near the Damu Bay, but Indonesian representatives of the WNF never confirmed it really were Komodo Dragons that were hiding there. A dragon, of unknown species, was found in the environment of the cave in 1991 and now lived in a cave of the KSDA. They will show you the captured dragon for a small fee. You can buy chicken eggs to feed the animal.

Seventeen Islands

The area just off the coast of Riung forms the National Reserve Pulau Tujuhbelas ('Seventeen Islands'). In fact, there are more than two dozen islands, but as a sign of patriotism they fixated the number of islands on seventeen, in agreement with the Indonesian Independence Day, which falls at 17 august.

Some smaller islands in the park are no more than pieces of rock. The bigger, especially Pulau Ontolie, the biggest, is hilly, covered in short grass and a few trees, and surrounded by mangroves. On Pulau Bampa Barat, where several fishermen have a temporary stay, you can sometimes buy fish. If not, bring a lunch with you.

Following the local park rangers the Taiwanese ships that fish for tuna and shark in these waters are the biggest threat to this reserve. The big boats are powerful enough to escape from the police.


The coral reefs off the islands are in very good condition, with several species of soft and hard corals, and many colorful fish. The view underwater is decided by the wind. The same goes for the comfort to travel around the small islands. The Flores Sea is most quiet in April until June and September to November. There are white beaches enough. The fields of sea grass in the shallow waters just off the beach are the residence to all kinds of red sea stars and of sea urchins. At the coastal side of the reef, one to two meters depth, you can see big shells. Sometimes you will see a big tropical fish (Platax pinnatus). We counted one spot off the island of Rutong, at least six different species of soft corals on a spot of only 1.5 meters long. Scientists have counted 47 species of coral around the island of Rutong.

Take a close look at the mangrove tree roots with snorkeling gear: Maybe you see thin needle-shaped fish. In deeper water you can see bigger fish with even bigger eyes. They are probably poisonous, and not afraid of divers.

Flying dogs

Along the northern coast of Ontolie, the biggest island of the 'seventeen', the big, fruit eating flying dogs gather in the mangrove forests. At high tide the boat can almost reach the shore, where the animals hang upside down in a tree. After a few yells, the thousands of animals fly away for a short time, to come back and settle down again. It is said that the kalongs travel a lot at night to look for food, to Bajawa and Ruteng.

The guides of Riung

Riung is proud about it's well-organized Guides Association lead by Pak Muchlis Manepo, owner of the Nur Ikhlas Homestay which also functions as the informational center of the village. The foundation has several functions; it sets the prices for several services and the right division of work between the handful of guides in the village and the several dozen of people which own a boat. This comes in handy for the tourist which doesn't have to argue with people trying to lure tourists. When you book a snorkeling trip for half a day or an entire day around the islands of Pulau Bakau, Rutong, Tiga, Lawjawa, Pata and other islands in the National Park 'Seventeen Islands', entry to the park is included, but visitors still have to report to the central KDSA office (Department of Forestry). All boats have contact with the shore at any time.

Picture: Flying dogs

Accept guiding visitors the local guides are precise about the increasing tourism doesn't spoil the 'golden egg'. In close cooperation with the local KDSA authority, Pak Nikodemus, the foundation organizes cleaning sessions on the beach with local students. They also placed trash cans on the islands and try to collect money for boys so they don't have to anchor their boats into the coral.

The guides of the foundation also organize trekkings to the summit of Golo Bela, from where you have a splendid view over the 'Seventeen Islands', and visits to the adat village which is located on a remote place from the main area in Riung. When you want to see a traditional dance, you have to let them know one day in advance.

The owners of losmen in Riung are all friendly and helpful, several of them are also a guide which can help the tourist plan their trekkings, tours to hot sources in Soa and transport to Bajawa. Mondays, Tuesdays- and Friday mornings there is a market in Riung. Ask Pak Muchlosnaar for tales about the Polish monastery on Pulau Ontolie (not accessible for visitors) and the old Buginese schooners which, following old village stories, changed into stone and you can now find a tree on the place of the mast.

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