Cocos Island: A series of islands, really, one massive and countless miniature peaks that rise from the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The main island is cloaked in forest. The smaller islets, of which there are many, all around the island, are little pyramids of jagged rock. Most have at least one hollowed-out cavern at the water line; when the sun hits them right they look like thatched huts with doors.
The islands are the center of a protected area that includes 24 square kilometers of land and 972 of water. The difficulty of access to the island kept it immune from human influence until the end of the twentieth century, when fishing boats, driven farther from shore by depleted fisheries, began to encroach. Cocos, however, has been lucky. The incredible number and diversity of species in and around the island have brought it international renown, and — declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997, patrolled by MarViva and government park rangers since 2002 — it has retained its character of wilderness.Our task here is to document Cocos’ marine life, both to present as a vision of what the oceans can be and to support continued efforts to protect the park. The videography team hasn’t lost any time. Today they went diving by an islet called Manuelita at the edge of our bay. We sent them off in a dingy full of tanks, fins, gear, and a few hours later they were back on board, talking over each other, talking so fast that despite the rewind function on my tape recorder I’ve had to ask one of the native speakers to help me transcribe Mar’s very excited report. Here’s what she said:
The island — Manuelita island, at the face where we went diving, has a ton of rocks, descending from the island, and they continue down from six meters to twenty making a very soft descent because at twenty, twenty-five meters is a sandy bottom, and you see spreading all the rocks of different sizes. There were rocks that were eight, nine meters tall, and full of every species — absolutely everything, everything. All of the rocks are completely enveloped in algae and small invertebrates. We saw a little bit of coral — here and there — and more than anything there were mackerel — the thing is that there was everything! There were sharks, sharks… reef sharks, little whitetips, five, six, eight, twelve, nineteen… And then, on the way back, when we were descending by the wall, enormous like this (gestures) — it was breathtaking, full of tiny life forms, incredible, everything was gorgeous. We ran into two huge jacks chasing an eel, and then something like five sharks appeared. Whitetip. Amazing. Amazing.