Day 3 |
Oct 15, 2010

Isla de Coiba & Granito de Oro

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: 07°35.597’N, 081°42.725’W
Weather: Overcast with thunderstorms
Air Temperature: 28ºC
Sea Temperature: 27ºC

We were back!!! Today’s destination is one of my all time favourites! I could hardly wait to get the day started.

The ship arrived at its anchorage at about 7:00 in the morning, and the Expedition Team went to work. We had two different localities to ‘set up’ for the day’s activities – firstly, we were offering a long 2-hour walk and a shorter 1-hour walk on Isla de Coiba. This island was World Heritage Listed by UNESCO in 2005 for its unique flora and fauna – and untouched beauty. The reason that this island has remained so undisturbed for so many years is because it used to be a penal colony for Panama, and access was strictly limited. As a result, the animals and plants have flourished and there are many rare and endangered species that live here.

While the hikers were exploring the jungle, I was setting up the water activities on the nearby little island called Granito de Oro – translated as the “little nugget of gold. This is a stunningly beautiful little oasis, with a quaint little white sand beach on one side, and a rocky headland on the other. You can actually walk all the way around the island in about 10 minutes. This was going to be our own personal beach haven for the entire day. We were running a non-stop shuttle between the ship and the beach all day so that guests could come over to snorkel, lay on the beach or sea kayak whenever they wanted to.

I love watching the expressions of our guests when they first arrive at the beach. When they slide off the zodiac and feel their feet sink into the soft sand, they always smile – it just feels so very good. But, there is another surprise waiting for them – the small ‘pebbles’ that are strewn all over the beach start to get up and walk around! These are, in fact, not pebbles at all, but small hermit crabs. There are millions of them. So many, that it is impossible to walk with out stepping on them, or standing with them crawling up between your toes (which always elicits a giggle from the toe’s owner!).

Hermit crabs are funny creatures – they have a regular crab’s head and claws, but the back end looks like a raisin. Because their have soft bodies, they must find something to protect them, so they use dead snail shells.

Anyway, where was I – oh yes – we had just finished setting up the water activities on the island when the first guests appeared to go snorkeling. However, just as they were about to get ready to go in, the skies opened up and it started pouring rain – and I mean pouring! So the guests returned to the ship but the three of us Expedition Team members remained. By the time the rain stopped, in about 40 minutes, we looked like three drowned rats! I could only imagine what the hikers were feeling like. From what they told me later, they too, felt like drowned rats!

But, as soon as the rain stopped, we were back into action. Soon the beach was full with guests heading out to kayak and snorkel. I took several people out on snorkel tours to see the amazing fish life! We saw large green and yellow parrotfish (males), yellow pufferfish, giant damselfish with their bright blue fins, sergeant major fish, triggerfish, long skinny coronetfish, and many many more. I was even lucky on one of my guided snorkel tours to be able to show everyone a beautiful little hawksbill turtle that swam by close enough to give us a great view.

For some of us, the highlight of the day was seeing whitetip reef sharks. These sharks are my favourites!!! I have spent much of the past 5 years dedicated to promoting the conservation of sharks around the world. Their numbers have been seriously depleted through overfishing. Through the research I have been doing, I have gained a huge appreciation for these magnificent animals that are so beautifully designed. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my knowledge of these sharks with the other snorkelers in my group, and was delighted to see how many people actually agree with me that these are very special and magnificent fish!

Despite the periodic rain squalls that passed, many people still came to the beach for a fun time. It was amazing how fast the time flew – and before I knew it we were packing up the gear and heading back to the ship to get ready for the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party & Dinner.

The Party was wonderful – we hardly recognized each other in our elegant dresses and suits! We were more used to seeing everyone in wet t-shirts and shorts! But we had a great time and the Captain introduced the Heads of Departments before we all headed down to dinner in the Restaurant.

A perfect finale to a perfect day.