Sprawled out with my laptop on the observation deck of Okeanos Aggressor, I'm soaking in the equatorial moonlight, while thoughts of the past week fill my waterlogged mind. The last ten days I've spent aboard the 120' dive expedition vessel, Okeanos Aggressor as we explored Isla del Coco, a Costa Rican National Park located just five degrees north of the equator and 300 miles west of Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Peripatetic adventurer as I am, never have I seen such an unspoiled gem of an Island. With nearly 26 feet of annual rainfall, it is a lush rainforest with waterfalls plunging down to the warm cobalt blue Pacific at every turn.
We came to dive in one of the world's last pristine sanctuaries, known for its abundance of large pelagic species and we haven't been disappointed. Uninhabited and protected, the Cocos biosphere is still virgin territory, unlike most every other "exotic" destination, there has never been an indigenous human population here to disrupt nature's flow. The sea's abundance riots here - and we've been privileged to dive up close and personal with huge numbers of reef and pelagic animals which seem unaffected by our presence.
From the moment we enter the warm tropical waters, the sea reaches out and lead us, enthralled, to her womb. There we were treated to an endless stage show, an ongoing live performance which has been repeated since time immemorial here. Cue the big eye jacks, a thousand of them, schooling in huge lazy spirals and concentric circles like a shimmering cloud of wispy smoke. Swim silently to the apex and see nothing but the silver wall of fish. Fin. The white tip reef sharks swims lazily by not two feet from me, nonplussed by the company. Soon I'll be so accustomed to the sharks everywhere, that I'll begin to play tag with them in the current and push them out of the way in order to capture the picture I'm working on.
Cue the dancing girls, or in this case the eagle rays which glide in from stage right, flying in on dark wings speckled with white polkadots. Their long whip-like tails trailing them some 2 meters, like a submarine antenna. A curious hawksbill turtle swims up from the deep, makes a few close circles and glides off. Large pacific spiny lobsters line the rocks and yellow grunts, more exotic looking than their name implies, wave along the reef like a Kansas wheat field. In come the rays, intelligent and curiously playful. The smaller Mobulus ray is about seven feet across whereas the larger Manta just ahead is a good 16 feet from wing tip to tip and looks as other-worldly as any creature on this blue planet. They circle and glide about us for quite some time, the flashes and whirring video not bothering them at all. Drifting off the reef with these magnificent animals, we float with the current for perhaps a half mile, a safety boat just above us, easily visible in the 100 ft visibility. Another huge yellowfin tuna cruises past, perhaps 200 lbs. - magnificent! Still, fisherman that I am, I'd love to have it on the end of my line. But of course the National Park regulations say otherwise.
Cue the native predators, as the Silky and Hammerhead sharks move in from the open ocean where we've now drifted. These are large animals, sleek and oceanic, they approach 12 feet and command respect. The cast of characters is unending and never boring.
High technology has found its way to this remote volcanic rock halfway from Costa Rica to the Galapagos Islands; we're diving not with scuba, but Nitrox rebreathers instead. These stealth systems allow us to dive with almost no bubbles as we rebreath the same air over and over, passing it though a special filter which scrubs out the exhaled carbon dioxide; a separate nitrox tank adds in additional fresh oxygen to the mix. Result: very safe, extended stealth diving and an unprecedented opportunity to get up close and personal with the oceans' critters.
Tomorrow we head back across 300 miles of open ocean back to the Costa Rican mainland. But all I can think about is kayaking into shore tomorrow morning to shower in a waterfall and then paddle back for breakfast before heading down for a couple more dives...
.......... Copyright 1997 -- Brian Larky, Napa, California