Day 5 |
Oct 10, 2009

Cocos Island, Costa Rica

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist Lecturer

Co-ordinates: 05°32.881’N, 087°02.591’W

Weather: Overcast with sporadic heavy torrential rains, thunder & lightning

Air Temperature: 29°C

Sea Temperature: 29°C

Wind: gusting up to 15 knots

The overnight passage across to the Cocos Islands was nice and calm – a pleasant surprise, since these seas can be very rough.

I was so excited to be arriving at the Cocos Islands! It has been a life-long dream for me to visit this remote island – it is an iconic place for all Marine Biologists and scuba divers! And here we were!

As soon as the sun rose at about 6:15 am I was out on deck to catch the first glimpses of this incredibly remote volcanic island. I wasn’t the only one outside – there were several of us gathered on the decks, sharing the same level of excitement and wonder.

And there she was – a rainforest covered island, standing all alone in the Pacific Ocean (it is a National & Marine Park and UNESCO World Heritage site).

As we approached the ship was surrounded by seabirds. Brown boobies, Red-footed boobies and frigate birds circled us and seemed to be welcoming us to the island.

Once the anchor was dropped off Chatham Bay, the Expedition Team launched several Zodiacs to scout to see what activities could be offered for the day. I, of course, went off with Jarda Versloot (Zodiac driver and general Naturalist) to find a snorkeling site. The best option was about a half of a mile away from the ship off a very small island just off the coast. Of course, the best way to survey the area to find the best spot for the guests was to get towed behind the Zodiac – so I jumped in with my snorkel gear and held onto the stern line as Jarda towed me up and down the coast. This was so much fun, it felt like I was flying over the reef.

The water was clear and the fish life abundant – especially the white-tip reef sharks! They were everywhere! These are harmless sharks that tend to rest on the sand on the bottom. Although the Cocos Island is known for its large shark population, I never expected to see so many in one place - nearly every patch of sand had one to three sharks resting. FANTASTIC!

Meanwhile, the Expedition Leader, Robin West, and our Geologist, Juan Restrepo, took another Zodiac down the coast to find a good Zodiac tour route, and Hans Peter (Botanist) and JJ (Ornithologist) were dropped ashore to walk a trail that the rangers had suggested.

The radios were buzzing with discussion between all these teams – the final outcome was that ALL options would be offered.

So, for the guests, the day started at 9:30 with those who wanted to walk through the rainforest. Of course, as soon as we started disembarkation ashore, the rain started – but it was only a drizzle that didn’t stop anybody from coming ashore. The trail started up from behind the ranger station and just kept going up, and up, and up! There were several lookout points with stunning views over the ocean. By the time the group turned around to return, the rain was pouring down and everyone was thoroughly soaked, but it was still such a fantastic adventure.

After all my years of being at sea, I have developed a belief that Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humour! Today, she waited until our first group of snorkellers was on its way to our snorkeling site in the shuttle Zodiac when she opened the skies and let the rain REALLY come down! It was a torrent!!! You almost needed to put on the mask and snorkel just sitting in the Zodiac! We were getting a taste of the real weather here on Cocos Island – unbelievably, this island gets a total of 7 – 8 meters of rain every year!!!! I think we had about 2 meters of it in just an hour!!!

But the rain did not stop our intrepid guests who were determined to experience this magnificent place to its fullest – they still came out snorkeling, with big smiles on their faces. It wasn’t until the thunder and lightening started that we postponed the snorkeling until later in the afternoon.

After lunch, the rains had subsided, and we started operations up again – this time the choices were a Zodiac tour along the coast to view waterfalls and seabirds and/or snorkeling.

The Zodiac tour was incredibly scenic and everyone marveled at the rugged volcanic nature of the island. And, of course, the snorkellers continued to be thrilled by the sharks, rays, turtles and schools of yellow striped jacks and white tailed surgeonfish.

So, despite the weather, we had a fantastic adventure at the Cocos Island! At the Recap & Briefing later in the evening, the Expedition Team reviewed many of the things that we saw. JJ went through the seabirds that we saw, Hans gave a great overview of all the plants and animals found here (highlighting how many species are endemic – found only on the island and no where else in the world) and I talked about the fish (of course) and especially about the research being conducted on the sharks in the area. And, for a bit of fun, Claire Allum (our Archaeologist) talked about all the rumours of hidden treasure on the island – probably a good thing that she told us about all this gold AFTER we were ashore, otherwise we might have brought a few shovels with us!