Cocos Island has been one of those bucket list dive destinations for all of my diving life. Back in around 2009/10 my friend was continuously encouraging me to take up diving knowing I loved the water and wildlife so much. It still took me some time to commit though and that commitment came after watching his videos from his Cocos Island trip. Seeing close up video of an abundance of sharks was something I could definitely sink my teeth into.
Fast forward nearly a decade and I was fortunate to win Undersea Hunters “Dive Wild” Instagram Photography Competition in 2019. This was a dream come true for me as having a young family meant the expense of such a dive trip was a little out of reach. Now I had the opportunity of a lifetime to dive one of the most sort after dive locations in the world. A trip was planned for May/June 2020 and the excitement with each passing day was immense BUT then Covid hit. Unfortunately, as Covid took a hold around the world the trip had to be postponed on four different occasions until I finally got my chance in May this year to visit Costa Rica and the infamous Cocos Island with Undersea Hunter onboard Argo.
My trip on the Argo began on May 16th. A 130-foot vessel that has a mix of research work ship and luxury yacht, providing 9 spacious rooms to accommodate 18 guests (14 on this particular trip). It also offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to dive a few hundred metres below the surface on the DeepSea Submersible. A trip on the DeepSea Submersible comes at an extra cost but would be such a unique opportunity that was unfortunately not available for our specific trip. Argo’s ability to transport the DeepSea Submersible meant the dive deck and outside space was more than enough for the 14 dive guests plus guides to get ready and then board the two dive skiffs to transport to the dive sites. A large and comfortable lounge and dining area coupled with a large sundeck provided ample space for relaxing on the long journey and between dives.
Once everybody was checked in onboard and all luggage accounted for, we set off on the mammoth voyage to Cocos Island around 350 miles into the Pacific Ocean. This was going to take around 36 hours and gave us plenty of time to get organised for the 7 days of diving we had planned over the coming week. Thankfully, after having not been on a liveaboard for 2 years and on a boat at sea for 9 months the crossing was very kind to me. A gentle swell meant any sea sickness was kept at a bare minimum and I was able to function and pay attention. Particularly important for the boat briefing and one that I was very impressed with.
Our host for the trip Juan Manuel was entertaining and kept us engaged throughout. The dedication to safety is what really resonated with me. It’s easy to get complacent when it comes to liveaboard diving and forget about the dangers that come with living on a boat. While Covid protocols were obviously dealt with, it was the issues with potential fires etc that I was impressed with. Unfortunately, we are probably all aware of the devastating liveaboard fires in recent years.
With times of adversity comes lessons and in some cases change. I believe safety has always been paramount, but with the fact that one of the fires was attributed to an electrical charging fault, it was particularly encouraging being told that anything left on charge in the common areas unattended at night would be unplugged for safety reasons. It was also pointed out that members of the crew would take it in turns to do 20-minute checks and sensors are used to ensure checks are being made. While we were all tired from our busy diving days and early nights were common throughout the guests, I did happen to stay up later one night to watch a film. It was pleasing to witness these checks first hand as the captain walked through numerous times marking the sensor each time.
It’s safe to say I felt completely at ease on the Argo for my trip to Cocos Island. The staff were accommodating for all our needs and went above and beyond to make sure our trip was safe and comfortable. The food was a delicious buffet and there were always alternatives if you didn’t eat a particular dish, while the diving from the two skiffs was well run with great help onboard and great guiding. I also feel I need to make a special mention for the theatre that was the scene of our entertainment – the island itself. Cocos Island was one of the most awe-inspiring places I’ve ever visited. An island of a thousand waterfalls and dense tropical rainforest it left me amazed with each passing turn – and underwater it was pretty special too! Stay tuned for my next blog with an overview of the week’s diving and also look out for the full article in Dive Travel Adventures soon.
Find out more about Sean, his photography and his hosted trips at: www.greatwhitesean.com
A guest blog by The Scuba Genies from The Scuba Place…
During a visit to Florida, Mona and John from The Scuba Place swam with manatees and learned some very interesting facts.
John and I made a trip to the USA this Spring and had the opportunity to check out all that Florida has to offer travelling divers. We had seen manatees in various Florida marinas over the years but had never had the opportunity to swim with them so our first stop after visiting family was to Crystal River, just a little over an hour north of Tampa International Airport. Crystal River is one of the few places you can legally swim with manatees in their natural habitat. We booked a 3 hour swim with Fun 2 Dive with a 10:00 am departure. Fun 2 Dive asked us to arrive 15 minutes early to check in and participate in a short educational briefing. We arrived with our camera gear in tow and the staff asked to view a video from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service titled “Crystal River Refuge’s ‘Manatee Manners’ for Photographers and Videographers”.
Between November and April every year this area is home to the largest aggregation of manatees in a natural environment. We were there mid-May but were confident we would have an amazing experience! And did we ever! Our guide for the day Dani, is a self-proclaimed manatee nerd! She has had a passion for manatees since the age of 13 and loves what she does! Our group of 10 loaded up on the Fun 2 Dive bus and took the short 5-minute trip to the marina. We boarded the pontoon and motored out into the nearby inlet. There were a few other boats in the area and as one boat was moving off, they let us know that there were three manatees in the area. Armed with our pool noodles, snorkel gear and cameras, we carefully entered the water and were lucky enough to find a mother and baby!
We spent the next few hours with our faces in the water amazed by the encounter. These beautiful yet endangered animals are gentle giants found in inlets, marinas, and coastal shallows. Often bearing numerous scars from boat propellors, these sea-cows are super cute in an ugly way but so much fun to be in the water with! Don’t be fooled by their size and slowness – when they want to move, they can put on a real burst of speed! And while we could have spent all day with them, watching the baby nurse and then munch on some sea grass in just a few inches of water, our time came to an end, and we loaded back up on the boat.
We have to thank Dani for her enthusiasm and endless knowledge of manatees!
Here are 10 facts Chloe researched for us that we had to share:
- Manatees can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes!
Although manatees live in the water, they need to breathe air to survive. Common sense, right? Well, you’ll be surprised to know that manatees don’t use their mouth to breathe. By breathing through their nostrils, they can achieve a higher rate of exchange of air, exchanging about 90% of the air in their lungs, whereas humans only exchange about 10%. This enables a manatee to hold its breath for longer.
- The oldest manatee in the world died at age 69.
The average lifespan of a manatee is 40 years old. However, Snooty exceeded this! Snooty the manatee from Florida was born in captivity and raised in Bishop Museum of Science and Nature’s Parker Aquarium. Due to hand rearing, Snooty was never released to the wild. Snooty sadly died two days after his 69th birthday, which was actually down to human error. It is thought that Snooty could’ve reached 100 years old!
- Sea cow? More like Sea Elephant!
It is suggested that manatees have evolved from four-legged land mammals over millions of years.
The last ancestor they share with elephants lived about 60 million years ago.
- Man vs Food finds potential new host
An incredibly impressive fact is that a manatee eats around a tenth of its body weight in food each day! Let’s all appreciate that they can weigh up to 450kg and their diet is predominately made up of seagrass, which weighs hardly anything!! Hence why manatees are munching all day, they’ve a job to do! That’ll give any Man vs Food challenge a run for its money. Their diet is a good indicator of an ecosystem’s health. A full up manatee suggests its immediate environment is flourishing.
Each species of manatee is a member of the Sirenius family, which shares a common ancestor with the elephant, aardvark and small gopher-like hyrax.
- There’s no looking back for a Manatee. Seriously, they can’t turn their heads.
As manatees don’t possess the same neck vertebra as humans, they can’t rotate their heads like we can. This means if they want to look back or to the sides, they must move their whole body. What an effort!
- Manatees have SIX senses
Manatees have tiny hairs distributed sparsely all over their body that are known as vibrissae. Studies have suggested that these tactile body hairs can be just as sensitive as whiskers and can help analyse surroundings underwater and detect vibrations in the water. Having this sixth sense is great help to manatees, as they are not known to have 20:20 vision, particularly at night.
- Who are you calling fat?
Although they may look fat and blubbery, manatees don’t have a thick layer of fat for insulation; that’s why they prefer warmer waters! So, if it’s not fat, what is it? Well, the reason for their size is due to their stomach and intestines taking up a lot of space.
- Dentist? No thanks!
Manatees’ teeth often get worn down through their relentless chewing and munching but this doesn’t cause concern. Manatees grow and lose teeth throughout their entire lives, just like elephants. Older teeth fall out at the front whilst new teeth grow through at the back of their mouths.
- Causes of death
This is not such a fun fact. Whilst manatees do not have any natural predators in the wild, humans have had a large part of putting this species at risk of extinction. According to the United States Fishing and Wildlife Services, around 99 manatee deaths each year are related to human activities, especially boat injuries. Manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 to help lower this number.
- Pregnancy Glow
Once female manatees reach the age of 5, they are ready to mate. It’s almost twice as long for males, taking a further 4 years to be ready. Take your time guys! Once pregnant, the gestation period for a manatee can be between 11 and 12 months. Manatees typically only have on calf per pregnancy, although rare, twins have been born too. Once born, a calf can weigh up to a whopping 32kg and will stay with its mother for around 2 years. One last bizarre fact we found out whilst on our trip, is that the mothers’ teats are found on the joint of the flippers. Check out the image below…
Would you like to swim with manatees? Dive the Florida coasts? Spend the day with Mickey Mouse? The Scuba Place can arrange a custom trip for you! Let us put together a Fly-Drive-Dive holiday that ticks all the boxes!
Keep your eyes on this space as we headed over to the East coast of Florida to dive Key Largo, West Palm Beach and Jupiter and we’ve got stories to share!!! Come Dive with Us!
Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.
Why diving Cocos should be at the top of your bucket list!
Missed part one of Sean’s blog on his trip to Cocos Island? You can read it here.
You ever expected so much from a place that you’ve then been left disappointed once you’ve finally had the opportunity to visit? Well, thankfully that didn’t happen with my visit to Cocos Island. Back in 2009 my friend was encouraging me to take up diving and showed me videos of his trip to Cocos to entice me. Ever since then and the start of my diving life, Cocos has been top of my dive bucket list. A lot of my expectations were alleviated slightly as a lot of his videos were the crazy whitetip reef shark night dives that are unfortunately not permitted anymore. However, I was still expecting a lot from a place that had an incredible reputation. Thankfully it lived up to that reputation and more.
The island itself had already won my heart on arrival. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Lush green rainforest broken up by cascading waterfalls drawing you down to a rugged beautiful coastline. It really is paradise on earth. Then I finally hit the water and quickly realised paradise continued beneath the waves. The checkout dive was a sure sign of things to come and a great entry into life diving at Cocos Island. A nice calm shallow dive at Chatham Bay but with lots of life to see and many whitetip reef sharks that weren’t as skittish as other places I’ve dived with them. Such a fun relaxing dive and then there it was!! My first Cocos scalloped hammerhead. Hang on, this is only the first dive and I’m only at around 7 metres or so. I really wasn’t expecting this, as thought I’d only see them at the deep cleaning station sites. It gave me a real buzz for the diving week ahead.
Sure enough the next dive at Manuelita Outside was really what diving at Cocos Island is all about. Hammers, hammers and more hammers!! Scalloped hammerheads were everywhere at the three cleaning stations along the wall with action pretty much starting as soon as we hit the water. While we perched up along the wall and looked on over the cleaning stations we watched as some would come in to be cleaned while groups patrolled the blue outside. What a fascinating spectacle to witness and it was only dive 2!!
The worry after such a crazy fantastic second dive was the expectations for the rest of the week. Was this a sign of things to come? Or were we to be left disappointed if we didn’t get another dive like that again? Luckily it was a great sign as the diving continued to deliver dive after dive through the week. I think I can only recall about 1 or 2 dives out of 21 where I didn’t see a hammerhead. They were prevalent throughout the week even making regular appearances on the more relaxed shallower third dives of the day.
Dirty Rock and Manuelita Coral Garden were my favourite dives of the trip and continually delivered for hammerhead action. What you learn when diving in Cocos is that if a dive site is hitting early, then it’s good to dive that site on more than one occasion. These two sites were on fire and delivered dive after dive. Not only were the hammerheads in abundance and made close passes. We also hit big moments at both sites that have gave me some of the best dives I’ve had in my life. In fact, one of the other guests I was diving with has been to Cocos 19 times and on one particular dive we had at Dirty Rock she said it was the best dive she has ever done there. I’d hit the jackpot on only my first visit to the island.
The dive started deep with numerous hammerheads at a cleaning station around 30 metres deep where I got one of my closest hammerhead passes. Hammerhead cleaning stations are typical of Cocos, whereas what happened next was completely unique and was the reason we all came up from the dive buzzing. As we shallowed up, we made our way around the rock to the other side and was greeted by BIG circling Galapagos sharks at around 16 metres. This was a completely natural encounter with no bait used as they swam past within touching distance at times. Juan Manuel has been a dive guide in Cocos nearly 20 years and had never seen anything like this before with Galapagos sharks. Such an incredible natural experience where my only problem was I couldn’t stay longer due to deco time and air consumption. I could have stayed there for hours with them circling between the group.
Close interactions with an eagle ray at Dirty Rock and the amazing school of bigeye trevally that we encountered on 3 of the 4 dives there added to the lure of this site. While Manuelita Coral Garden was a more relaxed shallow dive where around 20 metres was the max depth I reached. It was still equally exciting and gave me two of my most memorable moments. On one dive I had moved away from the group slightly watching the hammerheads circle around the reef through the cleaning stations. I then had a look over my shoulder and was surprised by a juvenile whale shark bolting along the reef at around 5 metres. It didn’t stay for long but was such an exciting moment as it was completely unexpected. That moment was joined by seeing mating whitetip reef sharks on one of the dives there. Another completely natural occurrence that left the whole group buzzing with excitement.
While we hit big at these particular sites, the rest of the diving we did around the island had its moments and delivered amazing dives throughout the week. I’m a sucker for a critter and in particular octopus and frogfish are some of my favourites. Seeing both these on what is a popular big animal destination adds to the appeal of a trip to Cocos Island. We also got lucky and got to see the elusive Cocos batfish that is endemic to this area, a really interesting and comical looking critter with its big red lips. The schools of snapper (particularly blue-and-gold snapper) and soldierfish were in abundance on most dives with the swim-through and caves at Submerged Rock creating memorable moments with them and the whitetip reef sharks. Marbled rays were always fun to see and friendly at times.
Overall, what an incredible dive trip to return to after a forced Covid break over the last year and a half. When expectations are so high but can still be exceeded you know you’re in a special place. From the first minute to the last, the dives continued to deliver and we were even given a parting gift on the very last moments of the very last dive. A huge school of bigeye trevally rose from the sandy bottom of Manuelita Coral Garden and engulfed the group, staying with us for our safety stop as if to ensure we have a reason to return. Something I would rush to do in a heartbeat.
Find out more about Sean, his photography and his hosted trips at: www.greatwhitesean.com