Cocos Island is located halfway between Costa Rica and Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. Its relative isolation, ocean countercurrents, wind patterns, and underwater seamounts combine to create an ecosystem that supports one of the most amazing displays of marine life on the planet. Scalloped hammerhead sharks line up at “cleaning stations” to have parasites removed from their gills by butterfly and angelfish; whitetip reef sharks rest on the sand; Tiger sharks are seen chasing green sea turtles. Many other sharks are regularly seen in significant numbers– including Galapagos, silky, and blacktips, and the giant filter-feeding whale shark. The rays are abundant too — marbled, spotted eagle, mobula, and majestic, giant mantas that glide by like silent stealth bombers. Cocos’ astounding abundance is further complimented by at least 300 fish species, including 20 that occur nowhere else on Earth. The waters also abound with marine mammals. Bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales pass by Cocos on their annual migrations. Orcas and Galapagos sea lions are occasional visitors.
Despite its remote location and designation as a Costa Rican National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the waters of Cocos Island face the same threats as marine ecosystems everywhere, including illegal fishing within its borders.
Since 2007, Turtle Island Restoration Network (www.SeaTurtles.org) and PRETOMA (www.Pretoma.org) have been collaborating to collect data on highly migratory species that use Cocos Island for refuge. This information is being used to improve management and conservation strategies. They are offering a unique and amazing experience opportunity for recreational divers to become citizen-scientists and work alongside and assist marine biologists to understand the unique characteristics of the region — and to protect its underwater inhabitants.
Divers are expected to pay for their berth and food on expeditions to the islands, though their expenses may be tax-deductible. In exchange, they get the chance to participate in the research by catching turtles, conducting shark counts, photo-documenting, and recording data. The divers get to enjoy the underwater wonders of Cocos Island, while simultaneously helping to collect the necessary data to ensure proper management of the marine reserve.