Travel

Ocean First in Cocos Island, July 2019

By OceanFirst on 7/28/19

Amy recently returned from leading another adventure to Cocos Island, her favorite diving destination ever (and that’s saying a lot!) There was magic in those waters: daily whale shark sightings, dolphin greetings, tons of species of sharks, and all shared with a tight group of friends old and new. Read on to find out what makes this place so special: 

What do you get when you combine two years of anticipation, 14 awesome people, and one of the most sought-after dive destinations in the world? You get Ocean First’s Cocos Island July 2019 trip! Honestly, this is going to be a tough one to recap as the moon and stars all aligned “just so” to create one of the most memorable dive adventures any of us have ever experienced.

It all started on an Ocean First trip to the Solomon Islands in April 2017. A few of us were sitting around telling tall tales from past adventures and the question of “where are we going next?” was posed. I get asked almost daily where my favorite place to dive is and though it’s a tough question to answer I usually reply “Cocos”. It was decided right there and then: Cocos 2019 was going to happen and this time the trip was going to be during whale shark season.

I adore Cocos for many reasons. It is a wild place requiring 36 hours of one way, open ocean transit where the diving is best suited for experienced divers who are comfortable with advanced diving conditions: current, depth, exposure, blue water drift dives, and sharks. Lots and lots of sharks.

Cocos is a small island 300 miles off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and is basically a weigh station for migrating pelagic animals. It is famous for large groups of hammerhead sharks who visit cleaning stations where tiny barberfish eagerly anticipate their arrival to nibble at parasites that the sharks are unable to remove on their own. Galapagos, white tips, silkies, tigers, silvertips, blacktip sharks can all be found here in large numbers! The hammerheads are the most frequent customers of the cleaning stations, though Galapagos sharks often visit as well. Marble rays, eagle rays, cownose rays, mobula rays, and manta rays also regularly cruise the dive sites. Enormous schools of fish tend to obscure the shark sightings as well! It was not uncommon for us to see a school of thousands of horse-eye jacks materialize out of the blue and engulf the dive group to the point where the sun was blocked out. Amazing!

The dive sites are primarily pinnacles where deep ocean currents hit the walls and force cold, nutrient-rich water up from the depths. This introduction of food gets the whole food chain going where the plankton-eaters feast on plankton and the hunters of the plankton-eaters feast on them. It is definitely the wild kingdom! Although there are only about 10-15 dive sites in Cocos, each site was a different experience from dive to dive. When the current changes, the entire dive changes with different players making their presence known.

The groups were split into two skiffs: the Blue team and the Yellow team. The Blue team would go to one dive site on the first morning dive and then the Yellow team would go to the same site on the second morning dive. It was fun to check in on our return to find out what each group saw! The sites we visited were Manuelita Outside, Manuelita Channel, Coral Gardens, Dirty Rock, Punta Maria, Viking Rock, Pajara, Dos Amigos Grande, Dos Amigos Pequeno, and Alcyone. Manuelita is the largest sister island of Cocos and is loaded with several species of booby birds, frigate birds, and darling white terns that would fly in a beautiful duet over the ocean. It was not uncommon to be relaxing on the deck in between dives and see huge tuna leap out of the water chasing their dinner!

The highlight of the trip was the whale sharks, however. These massive, docile creatures migrate between the Socorro Islands, Cocos, Malpelo, and the Galapagos every June through October. Whale sharks are on every avid diver’s “must see” list and see them we did. We knew we were in for a treat when on the second dive on the first day a huge, dark mass began emerging from the blue. Escorted by an entourage of jacks, a 30ft whale shark was suddenly in our midst gracefully cruising along looking like it wasn’t moving a muscle. In our excitement we began swimming to catch up, getting an incredible up close and personal view of this glorious shark. As long as they are not frightened, whale sharks will get close to divers as they are quite curious! Little did we know that we would see whale sharks every day for the next week. Each group had life-changing encounters with several whale sharks making repeat passes to investigate these strange, bubble-blowing beings. It was nothing short of magic. When the sharks finally departed the group would be left in awe, looking around and celebrating our good fortune! The feeling of being blessed by the ocean with an amazing experience is so invigorating!

After we used up all of our bottom time we would leave the pinnacle and drift in the blue to complete our safety stop and see what else Cocos would surprise us with. There would be times where we would see nothing but each other and then, out of nowhere, a pod of 12 dolphins would show up to say hello. These playful animals would buzz the divers, clicking and chirping to each other as to say “our swim was so boring up until we came across this group of 8 divers!”. We would get back on board and jabber away about the dive and how lucky we were to be here, living life to the fullest.

At the end of the day, the group would gather for cocktail hour which became a time of reflection not only of our day and trip, but also of past adventures. Stories from trips from 2, 5, 10, 15 and 20 years ago were traded, often followed by the question, “What trip was that, Borneo? Maldives? Galapagos? Philippines? Egypt?” All of the divers on this particular trip had traveled together before, with or without Ocean First, to the far reaches of the planet. As I sat back and listened to the stories, heard the laughter, watched old friendships grow stronger and new friendships develop, I realized that this is why we dive and travel. It is all about new experiences and living your best life. We were most certainly living our best life on this trip and I know I can speak for everyone in saying that we are ready for more. Pura Vida!

Until the next adventure,

Ami

 

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