Day 5 |
Nov 01, 2011

Cocos Island, Costa Rica

By Maria Patricia Silva Rodriguez, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 05°32.881’N, 087°02.591’W
Weather: Overcast with sporadic heavy torrential rains during the morning, and without rain in the afternoon.
Air Temperature: 27°C

I was so excited today because it was my first time in this incredible place! I was out on deck watching seabirds when I spotted the coast of the volcanic island full of wildlife with my binoculars.

Cocos Island (Isla del Coco in Spanish) is an uninhabited island located off the shore of Costa Rica. It is a National & Marine Park and UNESCO World Heritage site. It is located in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 550 km (340 mi) from the Pacific shore of Costa Rica, with an area of approximately 23.85 km² (9.2 mi²), about 8×3 km (5×1.9 mi) and a perimeter of around 23.3 km. This island is more or less rectangular in shape.

We overnighted in Chatham Bay, and since the night was nice and calm, we will be ready and rested for our early morning disembarkation. At about 6.00 I jumped into my Zodiac to go with some of the expedition staff to scout the conditions for the early walkers. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the island was! Now I understand why it inspired so many tales about the treasures of the pirates, the Jurassic park game and so many other things … it is just awesome! I am an ornithologist and I think this is the perfect place for birding. The island was also one of the favorite places of Jacques Cousteau.

As we approached to the landing site with our Zodiacs we were surrounded by seabirds, like Brown boobies, Red-footed boobies and Great Frigatebird. The general vegetation of Cocos Island has greatly changed since the island was first named and described by Europeans. Captain Wafer visited the island in 1685 and the landing place has his name. The rangers of the station were waiting for us to give some instructions about the walk and the activities for the morning. Just a few minutes after our arrival it started to rain so heavily that the rangers cancelled the walk. The trail was slippery and steep and didn’t look safe enough for everybody.

Our Expedition Leader Robin West decided to do a guided visit around the ranger station and a moderate walk to see wildlife. We learned so many things with our local guide. He explained about the conditions of the station, how many people live there and what kind of work they do on the Island. One of the most important activities for them is to patrol and control the illegal fisheries in an area, which is surrounded by deep waters with counter-currents, offering excellent environments for many different species of fish.
During our walk through the forest we saw Wimbrels, Black–necked Silt, Blue-wing teals (migrants from Canada), spotted sandpiper and two of the three endemic species. Seven species of land birds inhabit the island. The three endemics species are: the Cocos Cuckoo (Coccyzus ferrugineus), Cocos flycatcher (Nesotriccus ridgwayi) and Cocos finch (Pinaroloxias inornata). The Cocos finch is the only species of the 13 finches of Darwin’s that is not from Galapagos Islands. We saw the male completely black and the female with paler brownish coloration, and everybody wanted to take a picture!

The island has five land mammal species, including pigs, deer, cats and rats. All these land mammals were introduced by humans. The Costa Rican government has vowed to control the populations of these animals, as they are harmful to the local ecosystems. After a 15-minute walk, we crossed an incredible bridge made by an unknown artist from Costa Rica. The bridge is made with fisheries gear that had been confiscated by the rangers, and I found it to be quite amazing and really a piece of natural art.

Meanwhile, in another part of the island, the rest of the Expedition Team were looking for the best option for snorkeling about a half of a mile away from the ship off a very small island just off the coast.

Surrounded by deep waters with counter-currents, Cocos Island is admired by scuba divers for its populations of Hammerhead sharks, rays, dolphins and other large marine species. The extremely wet climate and oceanic character give Cocos an ecological character that is not shared with either the Galapagos Archipelago or any of the other islands.

After lunch, the rain stopped and we started operations up again – this time a Zodiac tour along the coast to view waterfalls and seabirds. The Zodiac tour was incredibly scenic and everyone marveled at the Red footed boobies nesting on the trees and the Great frigate birds stealing food from them.

At the Recap & Briefing later in the evening, the Expedition Team reviewed many of the things that we saw, I went through the seabirds, Claire Allum (our Archaeologist) talked about all the rumors of hidden treasure on the island and Juan Restrepo (geologist) talked about the Cocos island geology. After the briefing given by our Expedition Leader, I am writing this log to share with you all our fantastic experiences aboard the Silver Explorer!!