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ISLA DEL COCO COSTA RICA - INFORMATION
THE TREASURE IS THE ISLAND "The most beautiful island of the world", these were Jacques Cousteau`s words when he visited Coco Island. Perhaps a simple description, but before the beauty of the place, words seem not enough. Located in the Pacific Ocean, 532 kilometers to the South West of White Cape (Cabo Blanco), Coco Island rises like pearl in the middle of the ocean. Possessing a beauty admired by all, today it is of world importance.
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY The first dive in this island to be recorded was in the year of 1905, after the vapor “S.S. Turrialba", of Costa Rican flag, left the port of Puntarenas hauling a barge for the diving operations. The final purpose of this trip was, according to the book “Cocos Island", by Costa Rican author, Christopher Weston, “increase the knowledge of the submarine world, and that is sure, why not, take a closer look in search of any traces of the already famous Lima treasure". That is how a group of divers in diving suits and other persons arrived, who should work doing cartographic labors on the land portion of the island. In 1925, according to Weston`s book, the submarine world of the island received the visit of William Beebe, who after spending many days, told impressive stories of his adventure.
Among the other personalities that followed was Hans Hass, who in 1954, aboard his famous ship Xafira and in the company of his daring wife Lotte Hass, came to these waters, describing the place as “simply incredible and amazing". Hass made dives in several parts of the island and perhaps the ones which most impressed him were those around Nuez Island (today known as Manuelita) and for which he left a prediction which was to become true: “he who manages to dive on the North part of Nuez Island, will discover marvelous and surprising things". By the end of the 50`s and beginning of the 60`s, the attraction of the island was even greater for diving and fishing amateurs, than for treasure hunters.
Thus, trips began to be organized for lovers of fishing and mountaineering. In 1976 Phillippe Cousteau visited these latitudes, son of French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. He alighted with his aquaplane PBY Catalina Calypso II, the same that two years later led him to his death. Up to that moment, visits to the island had a certain hue of research-exploration, but in the 80`s this dynamic began to change, when the first formal attempts to bring tourist expeditions.
In 1980 a schooner by the name of Victoria offered charters to Cocos, travels which were mainly enjoyed by European tourists, to go diving. When the ships Okeanos, Undersea Hunter, and Sea Hunter began operations, the access was to the island as diving spot increased, incorporating other objectives, such as scientific and photographic exploration.
NATURAL LABORATORY In only 24 km2, Coco Island has a series of climatological and ecological conditions that grant it immense scientific and geopolitical importance for Costa Rica. Constituted as National Park in 1978 and as Conservation Area later, from that moment on, the island would begin to get credit with different international titles that reinforce its significance. On December 4 of 1997, the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture, UNESCO, declared it as Natural Heritage for Humanity in 1998 was distinguished as Marshland of International Importance under the Ramsar International Convention. CocoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Island is an oceanic territory having a unique and exceptional biodiversity, with organisms of diverse origin and high endemism, making it a natural laboratory, where species may be researched and the climate monitored.
A RADIOGRAPHY With an average annual precipitation of 7000 mm, Cocos (as it appears in some maps), has a humid tropical climate and average temperature of 27º C. For these characteristics, the dry season is practically imperceptible. During the months of January to March, September and October, there is a decrease in rainfall, for which it is considered to be the dry season. Nevertheless, in some occasions rains can be extreme and present throughout the year. Its topography is irregular and abrupt, with the presence of cliffs, rivers, creeks and waterfalls. Around the island there is a great number of submarine caves and inside it, there is a maximum point of elevation, Cerro Iglesias, with an altitude of 575 o.s.l.
Some years ago According to Christopher Weston, author of the book Cocos Island and who is knowledgeable of this territory, there exist diverse historical records. One of them dates back to 1526 and is testimony of the first documented arrival, the visitor was the Spanish navigator Juan Cabezas. Thirty years later, on the planisphere of Nicolas Deslines the island was present with its current name, but it was not until August 21st of 1869 that it became a part of the Costa Rican territory. This was achieved thanks to the President of the Republic, Jese Jimenez, who commissioned Lieutenant Rafael Oreamuno to raise high our three-colored flag. Notwithstanding, it was in 1832 when Costa Ricans living then had the first contact with the island, due to an expedition from Chileans who had lost their way and the Government sent a ship to rescue them. It is even affirmed that thanks to this action, Costa Rica won rights over the island, and it is difficult to imagine how those in charge of the rescue got there, and how long it took them. Already being a part of Costa Rican territory, in 1874 the General of the Division and President of the Republic, Tomas Guardia, considered using the island as a prison. Operational costs were so high that the government could not afford them, so the decree was suspended in1882.
CURIOUS VISITORS Notes seem to suggest that already in the seventeenth century, this territory received very particular visitors. Pirates and corsairs found in the island a place to rest and to supply themselves with water, wood and fish, which allowed them to feed themselves and recharge their ships. The greatest part of these pirates brought with them not only the need for shelter but also for their treasures. Thus, the pirate Edward Davis, of whom it is believed he looted a treasure in Leagon Nicaragua; Benito Bonito and the captain William Thompson, who are suspected to have stolen a treasure in Lima, were around these coordinates. Legend tells that these treasures remain hidden in the island, so for many treasure hunters, it became a mandatory “expedition", to such extent that it has been called Treasure Island. Even the German Augusto Gissler, named Governor of the Island in 1897 and who tried to establish 50 German families there, so that they would work the land, tried during 17 years to find some of these treasures, unsuccessfully. The ecological impact of this search was harmful, so, as it was commented by Fernando, currently only research permits are granted, given that the island is a great laboratory.
WHAT TO DO? Talking about Cocos Island is necessarily referring to a magical destination for lovers of diving, who will find a rich marine fauna and flora. Getting to the island is not an easy or economical task. The trip may last 30 to 36 hours with a calm sea, so in most cases what people should take is some tourist operation, since reaching by their own means is difficult. Ships may only be anchored in two bays: Wafer & Chatham. This is due to the fact that in the others there is an important presence of coral reefs and also the conditions of the sea, could make it difficult for ships to come in. Anchoring rights ranges from $25 to $150, depending of the size of the ship, and admission rights are $25. For its conditions and characteristics, the island does not offer visitors any place to stay, or any conveniences for buying or preparing food. But on the park`s facilities you may find showers and water closets.
The above means that by necessity, the easiest way to arrive and stay in the coasts of the island, will be with companies dedicated to Tourism on the area. Diving is one of the main attractions, but within the island it is possible to follow the trails, visit the waterfalls and viewpoints that will bring a delightful fresh sensation to your eyes. Its climate, the sea, biodiversity, the coasts. Everything together makes of Cocos Island an excellent get away for nationals and foreigners.
Even if the trip may not be performed every month (because of the distance and cost), it could be a nice target to reach, visiting it at least once in a lifetime. The real treasure of the Island is not hidden, it is before the eyes of a few fortunate ones that reach there.
TO THE WATER But, what is offered by the island that makes it one of the most searched for destinations in the world for diving? It is considered that diving in this island is not recommended for those with little experience. But the beauty and variety of marine biodiversity, is an irresistible hook no one can escape. One of the requirements you should comply with if wanting to dive in the island, is having an “Open Water Diver" and, preferably, the “Advanced Open Water Diver" license, since it means risky diving, with changing currents that may displace persons. Even if the companies performing tours to the island will provide the tanks and weights, one must bring the basic personal equipment: regulator, buoyancy compensator device (B.C.D., for its acronym), mask, full wetsuit and fins. As to the diving systems, you may use Nitrox (mixture of nitrogen ad oxygen), knowing that you will enjoy more time of permanence under water, sacrificing a little of the depth of the immersion. If what you prefer is depth diving, the best option is the multilevel, using compressed air. In fact, multilevel diving is the most recommended by Nicola Ghersinich, Dive Master and Instructor of ample experience in Cocos Island. This method requires advanced knowledge and it increases the time of the immersion by one hour or more, by step management of the depths visited, up to 140 feet, and the area covered. The only diving point where multilevel is not practiced is in Silverado, due to its topographic profile.
BY NIGHT AND BY DAY Diving may be by day or night and depending on the type of fauna and flora you will find in these two environments is very different. For example, depending on the behavior of predators: during nocturnal diving it is very common to find white-finned sharks hunting and great jurels, while other animals rest. The island has so much to offer, that there are great possibilities of having good visibility, even though the high level of annual precipitation. If the sun`s force is greater, the visibility range may reach 100 feet, but if it is overcast, it will decrease to 50-70 feet. Even if any time is good to visit the island, experts recommend summers, from January to March seams the best season to fully enjoy the splendor of the island and its waters. If we listen to the advice and experience of Mr. Christopher, he recommends Wafer Bay as one of his favorite points for diving. Some 120 feet deep, you will find the sunken ship Resolution, so you can not only know the place but also go over its history, as it is the same ship that transported the Chileans that Costa Rica meant to rescue in 1832. The Island Manuelita, is another good place to dive, possessing a beautiful coral garden.
Next to Australia, Tahiti and Borneo, the island captivates those sailing its waters in search of adventures. Those who appreciate the essence of adventure will find in this place a great natural masterpiece.
DIVING IN THE ISLAND Types of diving: Multilevel -except in Silverado-, Nocturnal especially in Manuelita Island - and Nitrox in most points. Outstanding points: silver shark only on Silverado, thus its name; corals in Manuelita Island; hammerhead sharks in Dos Amigos, Manuelita, Roca Sucia and Alcyone. Maximum depth: 130-140 feet. Temperature: between 24‚ºC and 28ºC and in the bottom and an average of 28ºC at the surface.
Recommended suit: full wetsuit, neoprene, 3 mm minimum and gloves. Visibility: minimum of 60 feet, in summer is the best, up to 100 feet. There have been temporary difficulties during the phenomena related to El Niño.
WORLD OF CONTRASTS Cocos Island is oceanic, which makes it unique and rare in the world. In the beginning, it was completely lifeless and colonization with organisms was slow because it is so far from other lands. It is this same condition which makes the Island to have many endemic species due to “evolution in isolated territories and the absence of external genetic fluxes, especially continental", says Michel Montoya on his report “Cocos Island, an introduction to its natural history"
. The Island stands as the converging point for migratory pelagic marine species, that arrive to its coasts to feed or reproduce themselves, so that its existence is highly important for maintaining the area`s resources.
Another characteristic is that being located on the Intertropical Convergence Area, it is the “only oceanic island of pluvial character on the Tropical Pacific of the East, with very high annual precipitations, which constitutes an exceptional characteristic in the regional context", pointed out Montoya. Its flora and fauna are a mixture of biological elements of different origins, which are under the influence of a system of marine currents, a particular geological history and isolated from the American influence.
FROM OUTSIDE Cocos Island fauna is very diverse and has a high degree of endemism. Nevertheless, as refers to land mammals, that is not the rule. Cocos counts with five species of mammals, all of them have been brought from outside, species introduced: feral pig or wild boar (Sus scrofa), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virgianianus), rat (Ratus ratus), goat (Capra hircus) and domestic cat (Felis catus). As indicated by Fernando Quiros, Director of the Cocos Island Marine Conservation Area, ACMIC, currently they are developing actions to create an erradication program of these animals, since their presence has caused damage to the habitat and autoctonous species. The avifauna has had better luck, since its presence in the Island reaches 100 species. Of these, 13 are residentes, of which three are endemic: Cocos flycatcher (Nesotriccus ridgwayi), Cocos cuckoo (Coccyzus ferrugineus) and Cocos finch (Pinarolozias inornata). The latter belongs to the group of Darwin finches, who used them to propose his theory of evolution. The white tern also usually visits these lands, in fact, it is almost its only nesting place in the Oriental Pacific.
COLD BLOOD Cold-blooded animals are perhaps the most scarce of the Island. Only two land species: the anolis lizard (Norops townsendii) and the geko (Sphaerodactylus pacificus), both endemic. In its waters you may find the olive ridley turtle of the Pacific, the green and the hawksbill. Diversity is high. Crustaceans are added to the list, just as invertebrates, of which over 800 species have been recorded, with an average endemism of 14%. One of the funniest cases is a scorpion, which not only is not charcteristic of Cocos, but is very old, with similar ones in Africa. And in the waters there is enough to chose from. Endemic fresh water fish: catfish (ancistrus chagresi), a great lake trout and a halfmoon angelfish. At the sea the bottle-necked dolphin, the fake orca, hump-back whale and sperm whales. Not to forgetting the man rays and 27 species of sharks, predominating the white-fins, the blue, whale shark and the hammerhead. To this submarine show window are added 32 coral species (9 deep sea).
GREEN, VERY GREEN The Island has a dense green forest, since annual precipitations are very high ( 5 000 to 7 000 milimeters). Cocos flora corresponds to a dispersion process, “facilitated by birds, winds, marine currents and floating materials", affirms Montoya. Notwithstanding, there is not a lot of variety. Accounted for are 235 species of plants with flowers and seeds, to which are added 74 species of ferns. A higher number of species has been found for mushrooms, counting some 85 but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s believed that at least 50% has yet to be inventoried. Within this choice of flora, three endemic species are noteworthy: el palo de hierro (Sacoglottis holdriedgei), the guarumo (cecropia spp)and the coconut palm.
In general, the Island vegetation corresponds to a tropical rainforest, litoral areas being identifiable at altitudes lower than 50 meters, growing on cliffs and the low parts of the bays. On the other hand, there is the vegetation of the mountainous area, which is the one of highest coverture and is present on altitudes higher than 100 meters. Mosses, lichens and bromeliads, are the other jewels forming this great treasure on Cocos Island. Its territory is barely 24 km2 , this natural treasure has allowed Cocos to become a study room without limits made of concrete, to better understand climatological and oceanographic phenomena, generating information for Costa Rica and the world.
COCOS ISLAND BIODIVERSITY INVENTORY: HERE ONLY NUMBERS ARE SHOWN, BUT IT IS LIFE 1.300, marine and land animal species. 228 mammal (10 introduced land, and five marine). 600 marine moluscs. over 260 marine fish species (27 endemic). 32 of corals. 235 plant species (58 plant species and 17 of endemic ferns). 362 species of insects (64 endemic). 85 of mushrooms. 2 species of reptiles (both endemic). 3 species of spiders. 100 species of birds (3 endemic). 57 species of crustaceans, and the list goes on.
SOME RECOMMENDATIONS If you wish to visit Coco Island, it isgood that you know some of the established regulations, so that the presence of tourists does not affect the territory: Each person is responsible of the waste generated. For this reason, please be sure to take it with you when you leave the Island. Camping is not allowed. Diving may not be done in groups bigger than 10 persons and should be commanded by a Dive Master. Not allowed molesting land or marine fauna. Flora may not be extracted. * Fuente: Elvira Sancho, Significado y protecciòn de Isla del Coco, Revista Ambientico No. 88, UNA, enero del 2001; y FAICO.
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