Fea­ture: Co­cos Is­land - Costa Rica’s Trea­sure

Costa Rica’s Trea­sure

Howler Magazine - - Contents - By Adri­ana Blando

Jac­ques Cousteau called it “the most beau­ti­ful is­land in the world.” Oth­ers called it Trea­sure Is­land, based on le­gends that pirates had hid­den a for­tune there, though trea­sure hunters never found it.

The real trea­sure of Isla del Coco, or Co­cos Is­land, lies in the pris­tine wa­ters that sur­round it, which are teem­ing with sharks, whales and myr­iad other trop­i­cal species. This re­mote Costa Ri­can is­land, 340 miles from the main­land, is also home to 235 species of plants and 362 of in­sects, plus two en­demic rep­tiles.

The vol­canic Co­cos Is­land was de­clared a na­tional park in 1978 by SINAC, and a World Her­itage Site in 1997 by UNESCO. In many ways, it is Costa Rica's Gala­pa­gos.

The main visi­tors are scuba divers, ma­rine bi­ol­o­gists, pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers and vol­un­teers from all over the world who help with re­search and safety around the is­land.

To get there, you gen­er­ally have to spend sev­eral thou­sand dol­lars on one of two com­pa­nies that op­er­ate char­ter boats to Co­cos. These live-aboard boats de­part from Puntare­nas and take 36 to 42 hours to make the trip.

On ar­rival, scuba divers ven­ture out in smaller boats to explore the depths. Visi­tors can also go ashore and walk the hik­ing trails that criss­cross the is­land. Along these trails you can see en­graved stones that date to the 16th cen­tury, in­clud­ing one in­scribed by the no­to­ri­ous pi­rate Capt. Henry Mor­gan. There's also one en­graved by Jac­ques Cousteau, the French ex­plorer, re­searcher and doc­u­men­tary host, who vis­ited in 1976.

Dur­ing the 36-hour jour­ney to the is­land, pas­sen­gers spend their time get­ting to know each other, shar­ing div­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, play­ing board games and en­joy­ing the amaz­ing views of the Pa­cific Ocean. A typ­i­cal tour in­cludes all meals dur­ing a 10-day ex­cur­sion and a to­tal of 24 dives.

Dive trips are for ad­vanced divers only with ex­pe­ri­ence us­ing ni­trox. This is be­cause of the depth of the dive sites and the num­ber of dives made.

Pop­u­lar dive sites are known as Isla Manuelita, Punta Maria, Dirty Rock, Los Ami­gos, Vik­ing Rock, Al­cy­one, Lob­ster Rock, Manta Corner, Pyra­mid, Cabo Bar­reto. These sites of­fer great vis­i­bil­ity and the op­por­tu­nity to see an abun­dance of corals, fishes, man­tas, tur­tles and sharks. The dive guides are great at point­ing out tiny crea­tures.

You are al­lowed to do three dives per day and three night dives.

Co­cos Is­land is vis­ited by an av­er­age of 3,000 tourists per year, and 90 per­cent are divers. It's no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say

Co­cos has some of the most thrilling and ex­hil­a­rat­ing div­ing the world has to of­fer.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Div­ing en­coun­ters with large wildlife in calm seas are most fre­quent in June and July, with con­di­tions get­ting rough from July through Novem­ber. Still, ham­mer­head sharks are usu­ally seen in greater num­bers dur­ing this pe­riod. The dry sea­son lasts from De­cem­ber to May and con­di­tions are much bet­ter.

Co­cos Is­land Na­tional Park also of­fers vol­un­teer pro­grams, and for those who want to work as vol­un­teers, any time is good.

The vol­un­teer pro­gram is in charge of re­cruit­ing and se­lect­ing ap­pro­pri­ate vol­un­teers, tak­ing into ac­count their per­son­al­ity, skills, abil­i­ties and po­lice record.

If you are in­ter­ested in vol­un­teer­ing, you'll need to fill out an ap­pli­ca­tion form and pro­vide var­i­ous doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing a med­i­cal re­port, a po­lice record and proof of in­surance. For in­for­ma­tion, go to www. co­co­sis­land.org/vol­un­tari­ado or con­tact the Isla del Coco Ma­rine Con­ser­va­tion Area (ACMIC) at 2291-1215.

Vol­un­teers must re­main on Co­cos Is­land for 30 days. Food, ac­com­mo­da­tions and boat trans­porta­tion from Puntare­nas are pro­vided.

One of the most im­por­tant pro­grams on the is­land is the Con­trol and Sur­veil­lance Pro­gram, which mon­i­tors and pa­trols the park to pre­vent ac­tiv­i­ties that threaten the in­tegrity of its nat­u­ral re­sources. The big­gest threats are il­le­gal fish­ing and the in­tro­duc­tion of ex­otic species, which threaten ma­rine and ter­res­trial bio­di­ver­sity.

This pro­gram also pro­vides se­cu­rity for the var­i­ous types of visi­tors (tourists, vol­un­teers and re­searchers), the of­fi­cials who work in the park, and in­fra­struc­ture and equip­ment.

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Un­der­sea Hunter, Pho­tog­ra­pher: Avi Klapfer - all ex­cept op­po­site page bottom

Pho­tog­ra­pher: Sh­mu­lik Blum

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