Honeymoon with the Sharks

Aug 17 2012

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Cocos Island (map), best known as the “Island of the Sharks”, is one of the most remote and beautiful islands in the world. A secluded island 350 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, it provides a  sanctuary for large underwater creatures from around the world. Why did I end up coming here for my honeymoon? Well if you want to see schools of hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, tiger sharks, manta rays, and other amazing fish, then you come to Cocos.

My journey starts off in the town of San Jose, Costa Rica. Stepping off the airplane I could not believe how amazing the climate was here. It was 72 degrees, no humidity and a slight breeze. It was perfect weather. I later found out it was because San Jose has an elevation of 3,840 ft above sea level. The next morning, a bus picked us to take us to the dive boat. It took about 2 hours of weaving in and out of huge mountains to get to the dock. The Undersea Hunter Group has 3 vessels, of which we were aboard the the largest and newest boat called the “Argo”. It spans 130 ft, has 3 decks, and can house 14 crew and 16 divers. It carries 4 skiffs, and an undersea submersible that can take people to 1000 ft. To say the least, its a pretty unbelievable live-a-board.

Undersea Hunter Argo

So we set off into the open water. It takes around 34-36 hours to travel to Cocos Island. This voyage is not for the weary. Many of us were seasick the entire time and were detained to our bunk beds all day and night. But once we arrived that morning, the sun was shining, the sea was calm, and the beautiful island of Cocos was out our window.

Each day aboard the “Argo”, our agenda looked like this:

  • 7:00am : Breakfast
  • 8:00am : Dive 1
  • 11:00am : Dive 2
  • 1:00pm : Lunch
  • 3:00pm : Dive 3
  • 6:00pm : Dive 4
  • 7:00pm : Dinner

The Diving

Cocos diving is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Currents are unpredictable, there are extreme thermoclines at random depths, and you can quickly get disoriented in the open blue water diving. If you’re coming to Cocos in search relaxing diving with beautiful soft coral and swim-throughs on each dive, then you better go somewhere else. This diving is only for the experienced diver, and that’s why the sharks are there.

Each dive you will see around 150 – 300 white tip sharks, 50 huge marble rays, massive schools of jacks, and hammerheads around each corner. Now why do all the sharks go to Cocos? Well there are two reasons. One, Cocos gets a bountiful supply of cold-water nutrients from the deep. The fish love this stuff. There may not be coral to munch on, but the nutrients in the water are more than enough to keep the fish full. The second reason are the cleaning stations. Cleaning stations are underwater car washes. Sections of coral that large fish can swim through and get parasites and other germs off of their bodies. The cleaners are called ‘Barberfish’. So during the night, the hammerheads go to the deep water to eat squid, and during the day, they venture to Cocos to be cleaned in the shallow water. This remote island is a perfect habitat for creatures crossing from Asia to North America. Here is a map of Cocos Island.

The Highlights

Bajo Alcyone

This was my favorite dive of the week. Some would say this site is the crown jewel of Cocos. Easily the most advanced dive of the week, due to its ripping currents, cold water (68 degrees), and poor visibility. It is home to huge schools of hammerhead sharks all year long.

As you roll off the dive boat, you have to muscle your way down a rope to 100 ft of water. As you descend, you see 20-30 hammerheads circling below. Once you reach the bottom they seem to have vanished. The divemaster motions to look up to see 200-300 hammerheads slowly swimming above your head. The entire dive consisted of me snapping photos of hammerheads circling around me for 45 minutes. It was quite the dive to remember.

School of hammerhead sharks

Dirty Rock

One of the more famous dives at Cocos, Dirty Rock, is made up of volcanic boulders and rock pinnacles rising from the deep. It is known to bring huge schools of fish and varieties of sharks. We did this dive multiple times during our trip and each time we were able to swim with massive schools of jacks, hammerheads, galapagos sharks, and hundreds of white-tip sharks. The most difficult part about this dive is the entry. The boat must hover feet away from the jagged rocks in order for the divers to not get swept away in the current. So we all back-roll off the boat and immediately swim under the crashing waves. You must descend quickly to get below the white foam and experience the beauty below. Like I said, this type of diving is for only the experienced.

White Tip Shark Swimming

Brown Eel in his house

Small Dos Amigos

Huge swells, crashing waves, and long boat rides. This dive site is very difficult to travel to and provides nothing special in terms of rock formations or coral. As we start descending along the wall of the pinnacle, we start hearing chirping noises from the blue. Suddenly 6 pacific spotted dolphins start swimming straight toward us. We quickly swam out into blue water with them. I frantically shot photos of them as they swam around us like lightning bolts. For about 15 minutes we were literally “playing” with wild dolphins, including a time where they swam in circles around my wife Jessica. This has never happened to me before in my dive career (over 2,000 dives). I cannot stress how rare this experience was. It was one for the books.

Pacific Spotted Dolphins Swimming Together

As we returned back to the “Argo”, we were treated with a whale shark that was swimming close to the surface. We all frantically got our gear back on and jumped in the water. We had about 10 minutes of swim time with this gorgeous animal. At one point, the whale shark swam underneath me and lifted me out of the water with his back fin. What an amazing experience.

Whale shark swimming

Saying Goodbye to Cocos

The time finally came where we had to say goodbye to Cocos Island. Jessica and I waved our hands as the reef and island soon disappeared. Such an unbelievable experience that cannot be described in a single blog post. Thankfully, I have plenty of photos to remember all these great memories by. If you would like to view the rest of the photos, visit the links below:

Cocos Island

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Photography by Colin Mitchell

Equipment: Canon G9 with single strobe

Update 08/26/2012: The Undersea Hunter Group has posted this article on their official website. Go check it out.

7 Comments to “Honeymoon with the Sharks”

  1. Great post. Great pictures…You must have been really thirsty to have to drink an entire waterfall!

    By Rob Karlovetz on August 17th, 2012 at 11:48 am
  2. Love the post! I read a lot of travel blogs on my free time and they almost never link to a map or any additional information about where they went. LOVE that you did that here.

    The photos are amazing! Congrats on your marriage and thanks for sharing!

    By Amy Jones on August 17th, 2012 at 12:01 pm
  3. Great Post, Colin. This place looks like a dream. The photos are just outstanding!

    By Chris Ronan on August 17th, 2012 at 12:02 pm
  4. Fantastic photos. What a special journey for you and Jessica! And, it is only the beginning.

    By Linda Webb on August 17th, 2012 at 3:27 pm
  5. Grat photos, Colin! Looks like the perfect honeymoon for the perfect couple!

    By Donna Barr on August 17th, 2012 at 4:25 pm
  6. Have dived with Colin for years this guy has a natural talent. Great Pics !

    By Ron Bauer on August 27th, 2012 at 10:38 am
  7. AMAZING pictures, gorgeous location! Thanks for sharing!

    By Monika Martin on August 27th, 2012 at 1:00 pm

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