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Cocos Diving Trip Report, 17 -27 September, 2018

Discussion in 'Central America' started by Dan, Jan 5, 2019.

  1. Dan

    Dan Orca

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Lake Jackson, Texas
    This is a 11-day (17-27 September, 2018) liveaboard trip around Cocos Island, Costa Rica with M/V Argo. The itinerary, as shown in Table 1, includes 7 days at Cocos, 3 dives / day to a total of 21 dives on 12 dive sites. Figure 1 shows the dive sites we visited (marked by red dots next to the dive flags). We did check dive in Chatham, several dives around Manuelita Island for schooling hammerheads, Small Dos Amigos for whaleshark, Punta Maria for galapagos sharks and The Arch for DeepSee submarine ride to 1000 feet depth. The most impressive dives to me were around Manuelita island to see up close and personal of scalloped hammerhead sharks in their cleaning station.

    Cocos 2018 Itinerary.jpg
    Cocos Dive Sites.JPG
    Figure 1: Cocos Dive Sites (Courtesy of Undersea Hunter Group)

    Here is a short video of the highlight of what I saw during the 7 days of diving in Cocos:

    A quick browse of Cocos location, I learnt that it is about 312 miles (502 km) from Costa Rica coast (Puntarenas), 34-38 hour boat ride from Puntarenas to Cocos Island. Figure 2, courtesy of Google Earth, shows where Cocos is located in Western Pacific, about 5° 32’ N and 87° 04’ W. I read the water temperature of Cocos would be about 79-81 °F (26-27 °C) around September. So, I brought a 3mm full and 2mm shorty wetsuits. The water temperature turned out to be as expected and I ended up wearing the 2mm shorty over the 3mm full wetsuit in the second half of the trip.

    Cocos Trip Path.JPG
    Figure 2: Cocos Trip Path (Courtesy of Google Earth)

    The Liveaboard
    M/V Argo, as shown in Figure 3, is 130-foot (40m) long luxury yacht with 9 staterooms for up to 18 divers, carrying 3 skiffs and a 3-man submarine (DeepSee). It runs by 14 crews (captain, cruise director, engineer, host, chefs, skiff pilots, submarine pilots, and divemasters). Two skiffs are for taking two groups of divers to dive sites. Each group consists of 8 divers and a DM. One skiff for towing DeepSee to the Arch.

    Figure 3: M/V Argo anchoring off the eastern side of Manuelita Island

    The boat layout is very functional for divers. Galley, dinning, and entertainment areas are on the main deck. Dive-gear station is on the back of the main deck. Six of the staterooms are in lower deck and the remaining staterooms are on the upper deck. The roof of the upper deck is a sundeck with open air sitting area for people to relax in between diving.

    The lower-deck stateroom, where I stayed, has 2 single beds, private head and shower, plenty of closet space for 2 divers. A desk and a chair are station on the corner, opposite of the entry door. Plenty electrical outlets in the cabin for charging my electronic gadget (laptop, rechargeable batteries for camera, video lights, etc.), which is my prefer charging station instead of the hot, humid & salty outside charging station that some liveaboards made you do, which would lead to fogging up my camera lens during diving and poor electrical contacts on the camera buttons due to corrosion. The housekeeping crew did a great job of keeping our cabin cleaned and orderly.

    Setting up your dive rig and handling it were a breeze. Once you kit up your BCD and reg on a tank at your assigned station in the dive-gear station, the crew would take your gear to the skiff and place it to another assigned station at the skiff. It stayed there for the whole trip. The crew would refill the air or nitrox directly into your tank after each dives, right on your station on the skiff. There are shelves, next to the tank station to store your mask, fins, etc. When we were ready to go diving, we just donned our wetsuit, listened to the dive briefing and walked to the skiff as everything else was already set up and ready to go at the skiff. No need to haul our gear in / out the skiff before and after each dives. Even our camera rigs would be brought to the skiff once they were ready to go.

    For water entry, the divers were divided into 2 subgroups. Subgroup A would sit on the port and starboard sides of the skiff. Then we would all back roll together into the water. Once subgroup A divers were away from the skiff side & descent, subgroup B divers would do the same as subgroup A and enter the water together with the guide. Subgroup A and B then gathered at the bottom and finned to the dive sites.

    The meal (breakfast, lunch & dinner) were buffet type in most of the days. Full course of dinners were served during special day (e.g., Welcome dinner). The food were excellent. Special dietary meals were served to those who asked for them.

    More detail info about the yacht can be found here: http://www.visitcocosisland.com/undersea-hunter-group/

    The diving
    We did 3 dives on most of 7 diving days to a total of 21 dives, with the option of swapping two morning dives or an afternoon dive for a submarine ride and another afternoon dives for a land tour of Cocos Island. The divemaster would ring a bell 15 minutes before the scheduled dive, for donning the wetsuit and dive briefing before getting on to the skiff. Typical 3-dives / day schedule is as follows:

    07:00 – breakfast
    08:00 – dive 1
    11:00 – dive 2
    13:00 – lunch
    15:00 – dive 3
    19:00 – dinner

    After each dive, when we were back on the liveaboard, we would be provided with some water, fruit juice, fruit bits (pineapple, watermelon, orange, cantaloupe, mango, etc.) for hydration.

    Day 1 at Cocos
    The first day of diving was fantastic. Water temperature was about 81°F. Dive 1 in Chatham, 55 feet depth. It’s calm & shallow dive site, a good place for check dive. We saw white-tip reef sharks, flounder, green moray. Dive 2 in Manuelita Outside, 77 feet depth, was epic. We saw some schooling hammerheads, as shown in Figure 4, below.

    GH010259.jpg Figure 4: Schooling scalloped hammerhead sharks around Manuelita Island, Cocos.

    Some of them were hanging out in their cleaning station, being cleaned by barberfish. Since hammerheads are very skiddish fish, to get really closed to them, as closed as a foot away, as shown in Figure 5, we had to sit still on the rock, holding our breath when one was approaching us, taking video without video light or still picture without strobe light.

    GH010584.jpg Figure 5: Scalloped hammerhead shark being cleaned by barberfish in Cocos

    Dive 3 in Manuelita Channel, 81 feet depth, was even better than Dive 2, more schooling hammerheads. Below are a couple videos of the hammerhead sighting during all the dives around Manuelita Island:

    Day 2 at Cocos
    The second day of diving at Cocos was a once in a lifetime experience. My dive buddy and I signed up for riding in the DeepSee submarine. Figure 6 shows the DeepSee submarine few feet underwater before descending into the abyss. It’s a 3-hour trip down to 1000 feet depth site called “The Arch” to see some of the deep-water critters and fish.

    Figure 6: Going to 1000 feet under the sea with DeepSee Submarine (Courtesy of Undersea Hunter)

    We saw gelly-nose fish, scorpionfish, spider crab, grouper, frogfish, mobula ray, etc. With limited lighting at depth my GoPro video didn’t turn out well. So none of my deep-water fish / critters are posted here. Fortunately I found a great video of similar trip made by Jonathan Bird of Blue World, that pretty much describes our experience, as shown below.

    The trip was done from 9:30 to 11:30AM, replacing the 2 morning dives. In the afternoon we did the Dive 6 in Pajara, around 92 feet depth. We saw, the usual suspects (white-tip reef sharks, hammerheads, moray eel, lobster) and an unusual bright-yellow giant frogfish, as shown in Figure 7, below.

    M1834630.JPG Figure 7: Giant frogfish of Cocos

    Day 3 at Cocos
    The third day of diving was almost a repeat of the first day. Dive 7 was in Manuelita Outside, 81 feet depth, seeing schooling hammerheads and marbled stingray. Dive 8 was in Alcyone, 97 feet depth, seeing the usual suspects.

    Dive 9 was in Dirty Rock, 86 feet depth. We saw lots of fish & critters there, such as black jack, big-eye jack, blue and gold snapper, hawkfish, lobster, spotter boxfish, guinea pufferfish, green moray, Cocos barnacle blenny, giant hawkfish, and rare zebra moray eel, as shown in Figure 8, below.

    M1834704.JPG Figure 8: Zebra moray eel of Cocos.

    There were lots of white-tip reef sharks there too, as shown in the video, below

    To be continued to Post 2
  2. Dan

    Dan Orca

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Lake Jackson, Texas
    Day 4 at Cocos
    The fourth day of diving was a special treat for some of us who had not seen whaleshark while scuba diving, in Dive 10 called Small Dos Amigos, 88 feet depth. Everyone got excited to see the whaleshark. It was huge, the size of a school bus, as shown in Figure 9, below.

    Figure 9: Whaleshark of Cocos

    This huge whaleshark made 4 passes over our heads, as shown in the video, below.

    After seeing whaleshark, the following Dive 11 in Big Dos Amigos, 104 feet depth, was just OK. However, we saw lots of schooling of fish and huge sea star, as show in Figure 10 and 11, respectively.

    M1834782.JPG Figure 10: Schooling of fish in Big Dos Amigos, Cocos

    M1834785.JPG Figure 11: Giant sea star of Dos Amigos, Cocos.

    Dive 12 was in Manuelita Outside, 87 feet depth, to see more hammerheads.

    Day 5 at Cocos
    The fifth day of diving was another special treat for some of us who had not seen Galapagos shark in Dive 13, Punta Maria, 96 feet depth. These huge Galapagos sharks were cruising by over our heads, as shown in Figure 12 and the video, below.

    Figure 12: Galapagos shark of Cocos

    Dive 14 was in Dirty Rock, 85 feet depth. We saw the usual suspects. In the afternoon some of us went on to the Cocos Island land tour instead of doing Dive 15 and visited park ranger office. It was amazing how much fishing lines the rangers removed from the sea around Cocos. I saw a huge pile of confiscated fishing line in the warehouse, as shown in Figure 13, below.

    Figure 13: Fishing lines pulled out of the sea around Cocos

    Some of the confiscated lines and floats were weaved together to make hanging bridge across a creek, as shown in Figure 14, below.

    Figure 14: Hanging bridge in Cocos weaved from the confiscated fishing lines and floats

    Day 6 at Cocos
    The sixth day of diving was another diving day in underwater paradise. Dive 16 was in Alcyone, 99 feet depth, seeing the usual suspects, however, it’s ending with seeing lots of jacks, as shown in the video, below.

    Dive 17 was in Submerged Rock, 80 feet depth. It has beautiful underwater window with lots of fish swimming through, as shown in some of the videos, above and Figure 15, below.
    Figure 15: Submerged Rock dive site, Cocos.

    Dive 18 was in Manuelita Coral Garden, 60 feet depth. I kind of like this dive site. It reminds me of muck diving in Lembeh Strait, Indonesia. We saw lobster crawling on coral, peacock flounder swimming, as shown in Figure 16, and box crab picking on snail, as shown in Figure 17.

    M1835014.JPG Figure 16: Peacock flounder in Manuelita Coral Garden, Cocos

    M1835009.JPG Figure 17: Box crab in Manuelita Coral Garden, Cocos

    Day 7 at Cocos
    The seventh day of diving, Dive 19 at Dirty Rock, 106 feet depth, starting up badly for me as I fooded my GoPro. After backroll entry into the water, I watched water was filling up my GoPro case by the time I reached 50 feet depth. So I thumbed the dive and ascent back to the skiff. DM helped me removed the GoPro from the waterproof case, removed its battery and micro SD card and let it dry on the boat. We went back into the water and continued the dive. Luckily it is waterproof up to 33 feet (10m) and I was able to recover and reuse it for the next dive. During the dive we saw giant oceanic manta and I took a still picture of it from far away. It doesn’t look good, but good enough for the record, as shown in Figure 18, below.

    Figure 18: Oceanic manta of Cocos.

    To be continued to Post 3
    ReadyTo Dive, <*)))><, CuzzA and 3 others like this.
  3. Dan

    Dan Orca

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Lake Jackson, Texas
    The last 2 dives, Dive 20 in Manuelita Outside and Dive 21 in Manuelita Channel turned out to be our best closed encounter of the hammerhead kind, as shown in Figure 19 and 20, below.

    GH010571a.jpg Figure 19: Scalloped hammerhead shark of Cocos

    Figure 20: Scalloped hammerhead shark of Cocos

    The diving trip to Cocos has been one of my best diving experience, especially when it comes to seeing many kinds of sharks up close. My dive buddy and I have already planned to come back there again in September 2020. If we can gather enough people to charter the whole boat, we can split equally the free of charge as a group discount for everyone. This trip is usually booked up early, more than a year in advance. So, if anyone is interested to join us, please PM me. Early birds will get all the worms.
  4. drrich2

    drrich2 Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    Wow. Nice shots and obviously a great trip. In the larger region, Cocos and the Socorros call to me as possibilities should I get the chance someday; figured if it comes to that I'd go Socorros, but you make Cocos look appealing...:wink:

    See any tiger sharks?

  5. Dan

    Dan Orca

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Lake Jackson, Texas
    I just came back from Socorro last week. :D

    I saw schooling hammerheads there too, but from a distance (see picture, below). Also saw lots of Oceanic mantas (1-3 of them in almost every dives), dolphins, many kinds of sharks (whitetip, silvertip, silky, Galápagos, etc.) for half the cost of going to Cocos. However, you may not get a chance to get so close to the hammerheads as you would be in Cocos.


    I’ll put together a trip report of Socorro later after I’m done with Maldives, which was another incredible liveaboard trip I made in December, a week before going to Socorro.

    As far as Tiger sharks, I wasn’t lucky to see one when I was there, but another guest who went in August saw one swam by over his head with its eyes rolled up to get ready for a bump check, as shown, below.


    The flyby woke the DM up, pulled out his poker stick & called everyone to gather up.

    <*)))><, scubaNYC16 and Trailboss123 like this.
  6. Trailboss123

    Trailboss123 Divemaster

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Portland, OR
    Great report. Thanks!
    Dan likes this.
  7. Dan

    Dan Orca

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Lake Jackson, Texas
    When I was there, all of the DMs were ready for the tiger shark encounter. They all carried that poker on their back, like a soldier. We were instructed to not surface alone & waiting the skiff to come. We were asked to bunch up during safety stop, be on the look out for the Tiger shark and watch each other back. DM would point which guest ready to get on the skiff, one at a time, with DM to be the last one to get on the skiff.

    Trailboss123 likes this.
  8. drrich2

    drrich2 Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    Guess we might ought to file that one under 'Beware what you wish for.'

    Thanks for the comparison. Even if the coming years proceed for us as I hope (a blessing should it come), I'd be looking at one far distant live-aboard trip (e.g.: Komodo maybe?), and one regional 'big animal' trip (e.g.: Socorros maybe?); financial concerns would then preclude such splurges. I got to see tiger sharks out of Jupiter, FL (albeit none over 10 feet long, way smaller than some sighted in Cocos, albeit big enough to kill you...), so that's off the bucket list. Any 'Cocos vs. the Socorros' thread gets my attention.

    You got some surprisingly good close-up hammerhead shots compared to some of what I see posted.

    Apologies if I missed this, but did you do night dives on either trip?

    boogs34 and Trailboss123 like this.
  9. Dan

    Dan Orca

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Lake Jackson, Texas
    No night dives offered in Cocos since the accident happened back in November 2017.

    We had a night snorkeling with silky shark in the back of the liveaboard in Socorro. The DM started yelling at me when I wandered away from the boat. He was afraid I would swam all the way to Socorro island. LOL. There were some huge silky (6-8') on the back of the boat waiting for handouts. They like pieces of watermelon peel that I tossed into the water :D

    If you ever going to Maldives, don't miss the night dive with schooling nurse sharks & rays in Alimathoa Housereef, Vaavu Atoll. Also do the night dive with mantas in Maaya Lagoon, Ari Atoll.

    I'll be writing up the 2 trip reports in the next few weeks.

    A couple more great place for night dives:
    1. Pink Beach in Komodo
    2. Arborek Jetty in Raja Ampat
    drrich2 likes this.
  10. Dan

    Dan Orca

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Lake Jackson, Texas
    If you haven't noticed in the hammerhead cleaning station video I posted earlier that some of the female hammerheads have battle scars from the bites that the males did to them during mating.
    ReadyTo Dive and drrich2 like this.

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