The Beacon

Sandy's Journal: Diving at Coiba


[editor's note, by Jason]: This journal entry was written by Sandy on Thursday, March 4.


We left Coiba. At Panama City I am getting on a plane back to the States; I hope we have a headwind all the way to shore.

It is 1:00 on a sunny afternoon. There is heavy boat traffic off Panama and Tom, our captain, is conferring with Aitor and Carlos in the cockpit. Sole - Soledad Esnaola Scotto, that is, of Zoea - is in the cabin; it is a good time to hear about the past week's dives.

Aitor and coral

(c) Houssine Kaddachi / Oceana 2005

Me: How was the diving at Coiba?

Sole: There is less life than at Cocos, and the diving conditions - currents and waves - were more difficult. Also, the island hasn't been nearly as explored by divers, so many areas are unknown; no one knows what's under the water. But it makes it interesting as well.

There is coral - a lot for this area of the Pacific - but there is a lot of bleaching because of the temperature of the water and because of El Niño. It's a natural phenomenon, but to what degree we contribute with climate change, changes in the temperatures of the ocean and the earth - all of this effects currents, water temperatures, fishing, everything. It's all related.

Mar is on guard but unoccupied. We can talk to her too.

Mar Mas with puffer

Mar filming a puffer fish.
(c) Houssine Kaddachi / Oceana 2005

Me: What were you expecting in the Coiba dives and what did you find?

Mar: For me Coiba was an island rediscovered. In 2002 my producer and I began preproduction for a project that was meant to center on Coiba and the closure of the prison... but for various reasons the project was delayed. So to be able to work with MarViva at Coiba has been a reunion with friends and a second encounter with their very original work.

I was so impressed by the consciousness that everyone has about what it means to protect Coiba - the park rangers, the ecopolice, everyone. I hope that this enthusiasm and this model will be exportable to coastal oceans as well.

As far as the diving is concerned, there is still much to do at Coiba. Almost nothing has been done. From the little we were able to see in the time we had -- because we only had three days, we did just ten dives -there is an incredible diversity of life.

Rays

School of rays.
(c) Houssine Kaddachi / Oceana 2005

The richness of Coiba at the level of benthic (bottom-dwelling) species is particularly striking. The sea floor is blanketed in coral. There's a lot of gorgonia. They are mostly small, growing, and there's a good deal of bleaching. Even so, the water is full of seaweeds, full of small invertebrates. We had the chance to see bream that I had never seen before, fusiliers we had never seen. We did a few dives in sandy areas and saw tons of all kinds of rays. It was fantastic. Coiba needs five years of diving work, because it's an enormous island. And it will take resources to begin the work of understanding all of the island's potential.

...In many of the dives we had the sensation that we were the first, that no one had ever dove here before. It's a magnificent sensation. It gives you some perspective on where we're working, and what it is that we're doing.

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