Cocos and Malpelo Trip Report: An Encounter with Two Ecosystems

Cocos and Malpelo Trip Report

On this trip we visited two islands, Cocos Island in Costa Rica and Malpelo Island in Colombia, two of the best Natural Parks in the Pacific.

Our first destination was the island of Cocos and after a long journey from Golfito, we arrived at this island of great contrasts—cliffs, primary forests and large waterfalls that welcomed us with a sunny day and dolphins jumping in front of the bow of the boat.

After our check-out dive in Chatham Bay, we went to the small island of Manuelita where, in the middle of a school of big-eye jacks and Creole Fish and a mobula above us, we could see for a few minutes our first sighting of a tiger shark with a school of hammerhead sharks in the background; an individual of about 4 meters (13 feet).

In the following days each dive took on different nuances according to the encounters that we had with the fauna of this wonderful island.

At Dirty Rock the hammerhead schools were approaching us like an explosion, there were times when we could almost count the teeth of the hammerheads and Galapagos sharks their teeth because their natural curiosity at the sound of the water bottle brought them very close to us. At the end of a dive, when we were just at 5 meters (16 feet), a very big manta ray passed by and with his majestic “flight” we finished our safety stop.

Dirty Rock gave us great moments in all the dives we did there. When we were not observing the schools of sharks or groups of Galapagos sharks, we were watching those giant swirls of Big Eye Jacks, marble rays and white-tip sharks.

At Submerged Rock we had an unusual encounter because in this place it is not normal to see tiger sharks, but in the middle of the dive and from the great blue came towards us a young female that crossed in front of the group and soon returned from where it was; brief moments but its spectacular shape and beautiful vertical stripes remained in our memories…

Alcyone as Commander Cousteau said in one of his chronicles was a wonderful site to appreciate the great schools of hammerhead sharks only comparable at some time with those of Malpelo.

We had dive wherein the hammerhead sharks were above us as if it were our roof and below we saw them arrive from all over—from the front to the sides, from the depths of the ledge and approaching the divers like old friends who come to you to greet with the full confidence that you do not represent any danger for them. What a wonderful place and what wonderful encounters.

Another great surprise we had was in Lobster Rock where, after 10 minutes of playing with some marble rays and a school of Whippersnappers, we were quickly approached by a female silver-tip shark that left us amazed by the perfection of the white lines on her pectoral, dorsal and anal fins. After making a couple of turns around us, the silver-tip gave way to a fleeting appearance of a tiger shark the gender of which I could not identify.

The Islet of Manuelita was not far behind and on each one of the dives we were able to appreciate the wonderful fauna of the island of Cocos. During the dives the schools of hammerhead sharks would come from the sandy bottom at 40 meters (131 feet) towards the rocks to 25 or 30 meters (82 or 98 feet), where we were waiting patiently. Other times marble rays mysteriously passed by in front of us and with their graceful gliding, which simply left us excited; however, those who stole the show were always the majestic tiger sharks that in some occasions would curiously swim up to the divers curiously while others simply saw us as someone else in that spectacular ecosystem.

Last but not least, the night dives at Ulloa and Manuelita Garden were crazy. The food frenzy of the white-tips is amazing; to see how they pass within a few inches of the divers as they go after their prey or to see the black jacks of almost a meter (3 feet) long opening and closing their mouths in front of our flashlights and cameras. The feeling of being watched by a Galapagos shark or a tiger all the time, gave a halo of mystery to the night dives in Cocos Island that we cannot forget…

The second part of our adventure is on the Island of Malpelo in the Colombian Pacific.

After a peaceful journey we arrive at this imposing Rock that at first sight is nothing more than that; a large barren rock, but nothing is further from reality. It is a great ecosystem waiting to be explored both inside and outside the water, as we can find a number of migratory birds on its walls and the largest booby colony in the world (masked, blue-legged and red-legged), different types of lizards and a species of geckos living with crabs.

In its waters we could find groups of hammerhead sharks and schools of eagles rays in places like Altar de Virginia, La Cara de la Fantasma, and La Nevera. In La Pared del Naufrago we had the fortune of encountering a whale shark that we could appreciate for brief moments near us.

However, the first dive we did in the Aquarium was crazy because as soon as we got in and began our descent by the line, next to us came a spectacular whale shark that was hanging around us all. As we descended the shark was following us and was fiddling with our bubbles, while below us we could see the groups of hammerhead sharks on the rock; it appeared that the cleaning station was activated in this moment.

In the large cleaning station we could see how the hammerhead sharks were being cleaned by the butterflyfish and the King Angel fish, plus the rainbow runners and leatherbasses. It was a spectacular dive and for more than 30 minutes we had the whale shark with us, in the end when we started our safety stop a group of 6 silky sharks came very close to us.

Another great dive we had in D’Artagnan, where the ball of big eye jacks darkened the spot where we entered. We could not see the rock because of all the fish and after more than 20 minutes of playing with it, we moved towards the sandy bottom, where we could see how the silhouettes of the hammerheads were outlined on the sand and a little further on a group of more than 10 spotted eagle rays timidly approached us until they were in the middle of us.

Later a large ball of mullet snappers curiously engulfed us, and then they slowly moved away until they left us in the middle of the blue with a school of small yellow-fin tunas. What great encounters we had in this dive site.

But really the most amazing dive we had at La Nevera where, after 5 minutes of diving on the wall with some groups of hammerheads arriving to and leaving the cleaning stations, Silkies, Galapagos sharks, yellow-fin tunas, skipjacks in what looked like a big bait ball started to to arrive above us. We swam to the blue and for perhaps more than 20 minutes we had around us more than 200 silkies approaching curiously to the cameras, the lights and the fins of divers, in what was the most exciting and memorable interaction with this species of sharks, where in some cases the individuals measured over 2 meters (7 feet).

Malpelo is always surprising us with its large and diverse schools of fish that only show the great ecosystem that lives under its waters for which we must care and appreciate.

With all the marvelous dives that we have experienced on this combo trip between Cocos Island and Malpelo Island, I am looking forward to more surprises on the next trip.

Jaime Orlando López Montoya
Dive Guide on MV Yemaya
Cocos and Malpelo Trip Report
October 31-November 18, 2016