Course:CONS200/2021/Impacts of Sea Level Rise on the Komodo dragon

From UBC Wiki
This file is from Wikimedia Commons and may be used by other projects.

Brief introduction

Komodo dragon is a member of the monitor lizard family Varanidae. The evolutionary development of the Komodo dragon began with the genus Megaloceros, which originated in Asia about 40 million years ago and migrated to Australia (mainland), where it evolved into island megaloceroses (the largest of which is the recently extinct Archaeopteryx). It is distributed in Endemic to south-east Indonesia. We can easily find them in arid and mountainous regions between 500-700m, which also commonly lives in flat savannas[1].Researches show that they have a venomous bite and two glands in the low jaw which secrete several toxic proteins. As a result of their size, Komodo dragons are apex predators, and dominate the ecosystems in which they live. But the Indonesian endemic world's largest lizard komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) have recently entered the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of "Endangered"species, which is now in a high risk of extinction. Global warming is still an issue worthy of consideration. Sea level rise due to climate warming has deprived amphibians of basic habitat protection, affecting the growth, development and reproduction of komodo dragons.

Nature of the issue or problem

mechanism responsible for the accelerated sea-level rise in the south Indian Ocean during the twenty-first century

The Komodo dragon is mainly distributed in the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia, and the local sea level rise is the most important factor threatening the survival of the Komodo dragon, and the rising sea level makes the habitat of the Komodo dragon less and less ( 30% of the habitats will be destroyed in the next 45 years)[2]. There are many factors that contribute to sea level rise in Indonesia.

Relative sea level rise due to surface subsidence

The first is that legislative and institutional factors in Indonesia have led to excessive groundwater extraction[3], which has caused severe surface subsidence in Indonesia, resulting in a relative sea level rise[4].The Indonesian government's lack of control over the taxation of groundwater extraction has resulted in many private companies evading taxes and exploiting groundwater uncontrollably. In addition, the lack of tax security has led to a lack of revenue base and financial obstacles for the authorities responsible for groundwater protection[3].As a result, the inability to effectively control groundwater extraction has led to surface subsidence in Indonesia, exacerbating the effects of sea level rise and causing severe retreat of coastline and flooding in the coastal regions, seriously threatening the survival of coastal populations and species.

Sea level rise due to the summer monsoon circulation in the northern Indian Ocean

The second factor is that the summer monsoon circulation has caused sea level rise in the northern Indian Ocean. Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the accumulation of aerosols (e.g., dust, sulfate, black carbon, and organic carbon) over the Indian Ocean have reduced solar radiation over the northern Indian Ocean, thereby reducing evapotranspiration and the hydrological cycle. And these effects weaken the Indian Ocean summer monsoon circulation. The study shows that the weakening of the monsoon circulation leads to weaker southward ocean heat transport and enhanced heat accumulation in the northern Indian Ocean, which in turn increases the thermometric sea level in the northern Indian Ocean[5].

Sea level rise due to the fresh water invasion from the Pacific Ocean in Southern Indian Ocean

The third factor is that the intrusion of heat and fresh water from the Pacific Ocean has caused the sea level rise in the Southern Indian Ocean. Study found that there is a strong connection between the Pacific Ocean and the Southern Indian Ocean, called the Indonesian flux (ITF), which transports fresh and warm water from the Pacific Ocean to the Southern Indian Ocean. Moreover, the ITF has been strengthened in recent years by anomalous climatic phenomena in the Pacific such as the cold phase of Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) and prolonged La Niña-like condition. Due to the increase in precipitation in the western Pacific Ocean, the salinity of seawater has decreased. As a result, the abnormally low salinity seawater is transported to the South Indian Ocean through Indonesian throughflow (ITF), causing sea level rise in the Southern Indian Ocean[6].

Because of the impact of the above-mentioned mechanism, the sea level of the Indian Ocean has risen rapidly. The result is that the Lesser Sunda Islands in the Indian Ocean are severely affected by rising sea levels. The Lesser Sunda Islands, located at 9°00′S, are mainly affected by sea level rise in the Indian Ocean, which studies have shown is rising at a rate of 5.5 mm/year, 37% faster than the global sea level rise[6]. In summary, Indonesia is facing severe sea level rise, and for smaller islands, the resistance to sea level rise is even weaker. However,  wild Komodo lizards are distributed on only five islands in Indonesia, and the largest of these islands does not exceed 1000 km² [1], so they face a serious threat of habitat loss.

Current remedial action(s)

The current remedial actions will be divided into two types of strategies. One is adaptive strategies: demographic models of komodo dragon and ecotourism of Komodo National Park, both of which will deal with indirect effect of sea level rise (food loss in native habitat) through supplemental feeding and direct effect of sea level rise (native habitat degradation) through building/immigrate to new habitat in Komodo National Park based on predictive information of demographic models and two fundamental procedures of monitoring systems. Another is mitigation strategies called renewable-energy-powered plants. These powered plants could directly reduce the degree of sea level rise through desalinating ocean water to hydroelectric dams to give energy and freshwater support for human society, especially for Sub-Saharan African countries, which achieves a win-to-win situation between socio-economic and ecological aspects.

Demographic models of Komodo dragon

The three figures illustrate that suitable habitat, especially along the coast, will be more likely to be destroyed by future sea level rise scenarios based on increase in greenhouse gas emission, climate sensitivity and aerosol forcing.

Demographic models could be able to predict the future range and abundance of Komodo dragon based on different climate change scenarios[7]. Demographic models refer to the model that use monitoring data of Komodo dragon and sea level rise projections based on climate change scenario to predict the track and population of komodo dragon better across the largest island of Flores in Indonesia[7]. There are two basic components of the model, one is niche-population model (NPM), which could detect dispersal and meta-population and extinction rate of Komodo dragon as well as total habitat suitability[8]. Another important component is climate change projects of atmosphere-ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs), which will project temperature and degree of sea level rise based on the scenario of the different degree of greenhouse gas emission, aerosol forcing (measure of particulates emitted by fossil fuel and biomass burning) and climate sensitivity[9]. The result from NPM shows that distance from the cost and temperature are the two main factors affecting habitat suitability, which includes that most suitable habitat will be found in warm environment along the coast[7]. However, more than 1900 km2 of future suitable habitat of komodo dragon will be lost during the climate change scenario of high greenhouse gas emission (RCP 8.5) with severe climate sensitivity and aerosol forcing, which will also further lead to 25-97% loss of habitat patch occupancy and 27-99% loss of Komodo dragon abundance in 2050 across the whole species distribution area of Indonesia[7]. As major proportion of suitable habitat of Komodo dragon is severely destroyed by sea level rise, the local government and community should implement some effective precautions to do more conservation effect for Komodo dragon. For instance, the local community in Flora will develop activities not related to agriculture, such as local sustainable ecotourism, because the expansion of agriculture area will have the most negative influence on habitat occupancy of Komodo dragon based on information of competing models[10]. Besides, the local community will also propagate some conservation values and norms related to Komodo dragon protection to reduce the activity of Komodo dragon predations[11]. In terms of government investment in Komodo dragon conservation, building Komodo National Park is the current action for protecting Komodo dragon. The next paragraph will focus on how ecotourism of Komodo National Park could achieve komodo dragon conservation through implementing supplemental feeding and building monitoring systems of Komodo dragon that has the similar function of demographic models.

Ecotourism of Komodo National Park

Komodo National Park aims at providing new habitat for Komodo dragon due to degraded original habitat caused by sea level rise.

One of the most significant features of protected area is ecotourism[12]. Ecotourism of protected area of Komodo National Park refers to the area that is clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means to achieve the long-term conservation of Komodo dragon associated with main ecosystem services and cultural values[13]. Ecotourism of Komodo National Park could protect komodo dragon efficiently based on advanced monitoring systems and supplementary feeding. In terms of monitoring systems, there are two fundamental procedures: ("annual population census on both Komodo and Rinca and a daily count of dragon group size at the feeding size") will monitor and predict the number of Komodo dragon population accurately, both of which could also identify the main reason of Komodo dragon population fluctuation[12]. If Komodo National Park detect the situation that the number of Komodo population has decreased dramatically caused by sea level rise, the local community will do some precaution measures, such as build up wilderness area of KNP in areas that away from coast with nearly same environmental conditions (near the lakes in KNP) as original Komodo dragon habitat. On the other hand, supplementary feeding refers to that gives essential food for some endangered species survival because of highly degraded native habitat caused by natural disturbance, such as sea level rise[14]. The positive result is that the number of Komodo dragon will increase significantly and not be starved at the feeding site of Komodo dragon park through providing enough and appropriate food, such as deer wild goats and wild cattle[15], to komodo dragon by KNP staffs. Although the rigorous regulation of Komodo National Park aims at preventing Komodo dragon from being disturbed by sea level rise, the Indigenous ideas can be combined into the KNP regulation because Indigenous knowledge can offer a systematic understanding of a natural environment of Komodo dragon over long temporal scales. For instance, Indigenous people from Benteng Tengah, Nangamese, and Latung are very familiar with vegetation habitat (savanna woodland) of Komodo dragon based on empirical experience from their ancestors, which is also an optimal assistant for KNP staffs to give some favourable supplemental feeding to Komodo dragon[15]. Therefore, with the joint effort of KNP staff and indigenous people, the new habitat in KNP will significantly compensate the food loss in their native habitat derived from sea level rise, which could achieve long-term sustainable goals of Komodo conservation. However, focusing more on supplemental feeding on komodo dragon might not be beneficial to local tourism development due to strict protection and regulation of protected area of Komodo dragon. Therefore, many visitors will be difficultly access to visit real Komodo dragon, which might not be socio-economic desirability to some extent. Overall, it is important to balance the trade-offs between socio-economic development and Komodo dragon conservation that will achieve a win-to-win situation.

Mitigation of sea level rise strategy: implement renewable-energy-powered plants

The diagram describes how desalination technology of MED remove seawater from ocean and convert it into freshwater production.

Renewable-energy powered plants could mitigate sea level rise through desalinating additional ocean water to human use[16]. There are two basic desalinating plants: one is Multi-Effect Desalination (MED), another is Reverse Osmosis (RO), both of which could implement desalination operation derived from wind and solar renewable energy[16]. The main function of MED is to deal with evaporation and condensation process, while RO technology will focus on dealing with filtering process[17]. A hydrological study finds that if MED and RO could desalinate water from the ocean to reach and maintain the sea level rise range of 1.0-1.3 m, the impact of sea level rise will be reduced significantly[16]. If the Indonesia government control the sea level rise between 1.0-1.3 m through using the most common desalination technology of RO at the end of 21st century[16], suitable habitat of Komodo dragon along the coast will not be likely to be destroyed by sea level rise, which plays an important role in maintaining native species habitat and increasing Komodo dragon abundance. What is more, desalination technology of MED and RO could also give enough freshwater supply to human society. As there are approximately 1.1 billion people difficult to access to freshwater[18], their health conditions will be seriously threatened by lack of freshwater supply, especially in the period of COVID-19 pandemic[16]. In order to tackle the above issue effectively, MED and RO will remove additional water from the ocean to hydroelectric dams that has the advanced function of storaging water in the long-term, which will not only generate enough electricity to local industry, but also reduce freshwater scarcity[16]. In retrospect, desalination technology of MED and RO could greatly keep the balance between ecological and socio-economic aspects, which figures out the above limitations of ecotourism of Komodo Dragon Park.

Options for future remedial action(s)

The recent re-evaluation on the status of Komodo dragons has called for stricter and more expansive protection of the species. While current efforts prioritize the health of populations within Komodo National Park, many groups are left unprotected in zones susceptible to habitat degradation and illegal hunting practices[19].

If the situation worsens, captive breeding programs and habitat translocations have been considered for the species. Captive breeding programs would ensure that gene flow isn't compromised within the population, and that genetic diversity is preserved to maintain the fitness of remaining populations. Translocation may be helpful in keeping populations isolated from human civilizations, as well as preventing the groups from shifting into a range that they are not adapted to. This, however, would prove difficult as captive breeding is typically less successful than naturally occurring mating, and current protected habitats are quite fragmented. A female Komodo dragon, living in Chattanooga zoo, recently gave birth to three male offspring. Through the process of parthenogenesis, there was no need for fertilization of the egg by a resident male dragon. While this compromises genetic diversity, the ability to reproduce without a male counterpart may prove useful in the wild, where males and females may be geographically isolated[20].

Resorting to these options would not only reduce the likelihood of the populations bouncing back, but would increase costs and enforcement needed for conservation efforts. Meanwhile, the reduction of human activity within the National Park would benefit the lizards, as they have been shown to behave anomalously around humans[21]. Additionally, humans may facilitate the spread of pathogens to the species. Establishing a safe, observable distance limit or creating entirely isolated regions within the park may reduce pressure on the species.

There are currently no existing mechanisms that aim to protect the Komodo dragons’ prey populations - deer and pig, most notably. While these species are not classified as vulnerable just yet (although they are susceptible to sea level rise all the same), ensuring abundant amounts of available prey will reduce competitive stress on the populations. Conservation of these species will also benefit local populations of humans, as hunters are competing for livestock with Komodo dragons as habitats shift into higher elevations.[22]


The decline of Komodo dragon populations will no doubt affect the health and resilience of the entire ecosystem. As apex predators, the species regulates the food chain by ensuring top-down control of prey populations (such as the aforementioned pig and deer species). Models currently predicting the extinctions of three out of the five island habitats for the species attribute the decline to direct and indirect effects of climate change. While effects from habitat destruction/degradation, sea level rise, and anomalous seasonal patterns have already been observed, impacts from anthropogenic activities such as groundwater extraction are only just beginning to be understood. Limiting (through taxation or mandating of licensing), or even temporarily ceasing excessive groundwater extraction may help mitigate the effects of sea level rise on the Sunda Islands. Further monitoring of human impact must be included to be able to instate effective policy for the conservation of the species. Newer preventative mechanisms such as the implementation of desalination plants should be explored to balance conservation costs and perhaps create opportunities to yield economic growth from climate change. For instance, desalination plants may increase access to freshwater, as many populations in the area currently experience restrictions. Collaboration of local communities will also be crucial in establishing a framework that represents all stakeholders, as Indigenous populations may provide alternative views – specifically ones that government organizations have not considered in the past.


Note: Before writing your wiki article on the UBC Wiki, it may be helpful to review the tips in Wikipedia: Writing better articles.[23]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Garr; Provan, Mike; Davis (Sep 24, 2021). "Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) Fact Sheet: Summary". San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library.
  2. Britannica, T. "Komodo dragon. Encyclopedia Britannica". Check date values in: |archive-date= (help)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Braadbaart, O., & Braadbaart, F. (1997). "Policing the urban pumping race: Industrial groundwater overexploitation in indonesia". World Development. 25(2): 199–210.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. Triana, K., & Wahyudi, A. J (2020). "Sea level rise in indonesia: The drivers and the combined impacts from land subsidence". ASEAN Journal on Science & Technology for Development. 37(3): 115–121.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. Swapna, P., Jyoti, J., Krishnan, R., Sandeep, N., & Griffies, S. M. (2017). "Multidecadal weakening of indian summer monsoon circulation induces an increasing northern indian ocean sea level". Geophysical Research Letters. 44(20): 10, 560–10, 572.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Jyoti, J., Swapna, P., Krishnan, R., & Naidu, C. V (2019). "Pacific modulation of accelerated south indian ocean sea level rise during the early 21st Century". Climate Dynamics. 53(7-8): 4413–4432. no-break space character in |title= at position 90 (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Jones, A. R., Jessop, T. S., Ariefiandy, A., Brook, B. W., Brown, S. C., Ciofi, C., Benu, Y. J., Purwandana, D., Sitorus, T., Wigley, T. M. L., & Fordham, D. A. (2020). "Identifying island safe havens to prevent the extinction of the World's largest lizard from global warming". Ecology and Evolution. 10: 10492–10507 – via WIlEY.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. Fordham, D. A., Akçakaya, H. R., Araújo, M. B., Keith, D. A., & Brook, B. W. (2013). "Tools for integrating range change, extinction risk and cli- mate change information into conservation management". Ecography,. 36: 956–964.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. Fordham, D. A., Wigley, T. M. L., & Brook, B. W. (2011). "Multi-model climate projections for biodiversity risk assessments". Ecological Applications,. 21: 3317–3331.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. Ariefiandy, A., Purwandana, D., Azmi, M., Nasu, S. A., Mardani, J., Ciofi, C., & Jessop, T. S. (2021). "Human activities associated with reduced komodo dragon habitat use and range loss on flores". Biodiversity and Conservation,. 30: 461–479.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. Kamil, P. I., Susianto, H., Purwandana, D., & Ariefiandy, A. (2020). "Anthropomorphic and factual approaches in Komodo dragon conservation awareness program for elementary school students: Initial study". Applied Environmental Education & Communication,. 19: 225–237.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. 12.0 12.1 Walpole, John (February 2001). "Feeding dragons in Komodo National Park: a tourism tool with conservation complications". Animal Conservation,. Vol. 4: pp. 67-73.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: extra text (link)
  13. Dudley, N. (Ed.). (2008). Guidelines for applying protected area management categories. IUCN.
  14. Ewen, J. G., Walker, L., Canessa, S., & Groombridge, J. J. (2015). "Improving supplementary feeding in species conservation". Conservation Biology. Vol. 29: pp. 341-349.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text (link)
  15. 15.0 15.1 Blegur, W. A., Djohan, T. S., & Ritohardoyo, S. (2020). "Community Perception Surrounding Riung National Park to the Conservation of Komodo Dragon". SCISCITATIO. Vol. 1: pp. 57-63.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text (link)
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 Hindiyeh, M., Albatayneh, A., Altarawneh, R., Jaradat, M., Al-Omary, M., Abdelal, Q., Tayara, T., Khalil, O., Juaidi, A., Abdallah, R., Dutournié, P., & Jeguirim, M. (2021). "Sea level rise mitigation by global sea water desalination using renewable-energy-powered plants". Sustainability (Basel, Switzerland),. 13: 9552 – via MDPI.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. Curto, D., Franzitta, V., & Guercio, A (2021). "A review of the water desalination technologies". Applied Sciences. 11: 670 – via MDPI.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  18. UN-Water. Scarcity. Available online: (accessed on 4 January 2021).
  19. "Komodo Dragons Are Now Endangered and 'Moving Toward Extinction'".
  20. "Baby Komodo dragons born without a father".
  21. Supriatna, Jatna. "Why We Must Reassess the Komod Dragons Endangered Status".
  22. Ashworth, James (2021). "Komodo dragon is now listed as Endangered as rising sea levels threaten its survival".
  23. (2018). Writing better articles. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Course:CONS200. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.