The Lost World of the sharks

Season: Cocos Island: Year-round diving

Visibility: Cocos Island: 25-40m/80-130ft

Water Temperature: Cocos Island: 24-26°C/75-79°F

Schooling Hammerheads (Image by Avi Klapfer, Courtesy of Undersea Hunter Fleet)

Diving: Sharks, Manta Rays, Whale Sharks, walls, sea mounts


Rebreather friendly (Sea Hunter and Undersea Hunter)

Willing to share option


Important: Cocos Island is one of the world’s most sought-after dive destinations. The cruises, especially those on Sea Hunter and Undersea Hunter, tend to get booked up far in advance, so please plan far ahead for your trip, as much as one or two years for some cruises!

Far out into the Pacific, 260 miles southwest of Costa Rica, is a lost world rising from the ocean depths. The precipitous cliffs, covered in luxuriant vegetation and decorated with numerous spectacular, cascading waterfalls, are often swathed in mist, giving this remote island a mysterious, other-worldly feel. This is Cocos Island (or Isla del Coco), the Holy Grail at the end of the diver’s quest, the veritable ‘Kingdom of the Sharks’.

A truly undiscovered paradise awaits the adventurous diver who makes the 36-hour boat journey from the port of Puntarenas. It seems fitting that such a rite of passage should be undergone before one is allowed to experience Cocos, for such a place is not of the modern world with its noise, crowds and pollution – it is a relic of a wild, primeval time in the history of our earth, a time that is now long past. As you awake on the first morning after leaving the coast of Costa Rica you will be surrounded by the vast expanse of the sea, with only an occasional seabird to remind you that there is land somewhere out there. By the second evening excitement is reaching fever pitch and then, as dawn breaks next morning, Cocos Island lies dead ahead!

Those in search of uncommon marine life need look no further than Cocos Island. This remote and mountainous island, just 4 miles long with the highest point reaching an amazing 3000 feet, is covered in lush and verdant rainforest. With no human residents apart from temporary marine park and coastguard staff, it is populated by tropical birds, exotic plants and colourful butterflies, many of which are found nowhere else on earth.

Diving Cocos Island is an incredible electrifying, once-in-a-lifetime experience! Many of the dive sites are sheer pinnacles with steep walls where the largest animals are commonplace. Here you can drive your adrenalin levels into overload as you dive amid gliding swarms of Scalloped Hammerheads and White-tip Reef Sharks, sometimes numbering into the hundreds. Grey Reef Sharks are common and even the impressive Oceanic White-tip Shark is a regular visitor here. The huge Whale Shark, which can reach a length of nearly 20 metres, is a frequent visitor to Cocos. These plankton-eating giants of the shark family are completely harmless, but it can sometimes be hard to persuade oneself of this when confronted by a truck-sized creature with a huge broad snout and an immense mouth!

Apart from the ubiquitous sharks, Manta Rays, Marbled Rays, tuna and dolphins are all commonly sighted, while Pilot Whales, False Killer Whales, Marlin and Sailfish have also been sighted here regularly. The enormous but graceful Manta Rays tend to go around alone or in small groups, but if you are fortunate you will see an entire school of their smaller, more sociable cousin, the Pygmy Devil Ray (or Mobula). Although the major attraction here is the fantastic and abundant population of big animals there is also a stunning variety of the smaller creatures of the reef. Frogfish, Snowflake Moray Eels, Harlequin Shrimps and clouds of tropical fish provide excellent subjects for the keen underwater photographer who can bear to drag his or her attention away from the wide-angle lens for a short time! Huge schools of snapper and jacks sometimes blot out the light and the sheer abundance of fish, undiminished by fishing, is the prime reason why Cocos attracts so many large predators.

On most cruises, visiting liveaboards circumnavigate Cocos Island and off-shore rocks, islets and seamounts are the usual dive sites. You may start your diving amongst the schools of Scalloped Hammerheads at Manuelita Island, which is aligned north-south and can be dived on either side. The west side is usually dived as a deep drift along a wall that falls off to a sandy bottom at around 43 metres. Large gatherings of White-tip Reef Sharks and Scalloped Hammerheads circle in this area and photographers can ‘shelter’ from the current and take their time to set up their shark shots (which may be either above or below the diver). The eastern side of the island is a complete contrast, beacuse the crescent shoreline offers protection from the prevailing currents. This reef is where the ‘Cocos Nursery’ is situated. A fantastic variety of Pacific reef fish can be found here: goatfish, grunts, butterflyfish, boxfish, pufferfish, parrotfish, snappers, jacks, Rainbow Runners, and even some turtles. Where reef meets sand, one can find sharks and turtles along with pelagic varieties of fish, as this is not only a spawning area but also a cleaning station. At night the population changes and the creatures that hide themselves away during daytime come out to feed. Starfish and brittle stars appear. Shy eels search for prey. Yellow cup coral ‘blooms’ and big-eyed squirrelfish venture from their dens.

Dirty Rock (not a rock at all, but an island), also known as Pietra Socia or Boat Rock, lies in the northern region of Cocos and about one kilometre from the main island. Nutrient-rich currents flow through this area and form the basis for a food chain which attract immense shark and fish populations. This is perhaps the ‘signature dive’ of the Cocos area as this is home to one of the highest populations of Scalloped Hammerheads. Divers descend through a seemingly endless cloud of Pacific Creolefish, though the sharks will already be visible circling beneath. Below 25 metres large loose schools of Scalloped Hammerheads mill around, surging off in all directions and then re-grouping. If you are lucky, they will surge close to you. Their movements are random and apparently indiscriminate. There seems to be no plan or strategy in their actions, so keep looking out above, below and behind. The area between Dirty Rock and the main island forms a wide and spectacular canyon. Here an immense school of silver snappers appears to block the divers’ passage through the canyon, though Marbled Rays and sharks foraging for food on the seabed easily carve a path through this living curtain.

Maybe Dos Amigos is the most spectacular and thrilling dive at Cocos. Both these islands, only accessible to seabirds, are sheer and steep. Beneath the waves the visibility is usually excellent, though the current can be strong, particularly on the north sides. The inner island has a deep and huge archway which is often filled with snappers, seemingly suspended in the water column and illuminated from above. The bottom of the archway is around 30 metres and the mass of sharks and snappers framed by the archway offers great scope for the photographer with a wide angle lens. The outer island contrasts with his brother under the water. The diving is deeper and needs a fine day to get the best from the available light. A series of boulders rest on the sand and provide a home for the ubiquitous snapper schools and also for rays that form small schools and use the nutrient-rich current to forage for food.

Diving off Cocos Island is for the more experienced diver: thermoclines and upwellings cause a considerable variation in temperature, while unpredictable currents and surface chop are also a feature of diving in this area. Visibility can vary from 25 metres up to 40 metres and dive depths usually range from 15-35 metres, though there are some deeper dives. Because the average dive depth is deeper than usual, liveaboards normally features four dives per day at Cocos (including a night dive).



Manta Ray (Wayne Hasson - Okeanos Aggressor)

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark (Wayne Hasson - Okeanos Aggressor)

Cleanerfish school (Wayne Hasson - Okeanos Aggressor)

Nurse Shark (Wayne Hasson - Okeanos Aggressor)

Small dolphin pod (Wayne Hasson - Okeanos Aggressor)

Orange frogfish (Wayne Hasson - Okeanos Aggressor)

Scalloped Hammerhead school (Wayne Hasson - Okeanos Aggressor)

Manta Ray (Undersea Hunter)

Scalloped Hammerhead school (Wayne Hasson - Okeanos Aggressor)

White-tip Reef Shark WI meeting (Undersea Hunter)

Cocos Island landscape (Undersea Hunter)

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