Coiba Marine Park

Posted on November 20, 2018

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Where to begin? The surface interval itself was off the charts, let alone the diving.

Two bottlenose dolphins leapt high into the air from beneath the surface. Squeals from the divers appeared to encourage them to leap even higher. Their black, slender bodies arching in the air following us, as we circled slowly around them. There was not another boat for miles. Perfect.

Then a short while later as we motored towards a beach for a break, a huge splash. Something big was also breaching in the distance. The second time we all saw the whale. Everyone, myself included gasped. It’s entire body leaping out of the water meters above the surface. I grabbed my phone. Even at this distance the humpback’s next leap would be dramatic. And it was. I pressed the “capture” button repeatedly and got a winning shot in focus. Success! Wow, wow, wow. A moment that is now burned into my memory.

The last two days diving in Coiba has been magnificent. Fish, fish, fish! Pelagic and shoals. The colours, the life.

If the reef was more coral based I would have thought I was diving in Asia. The vis for the Pacific was extremely clear. That surprised me. I lost count how many sharks I saw – all white tips. Then the numerous giant green moray eels swimming and black and white spotted ones gawping from the crevices. I saw a wall of big eye trevally packed tightly together shimmering like a silver mirror. Blue trevally sizing up the sharks and darting in and around them. Eagle rays gliding effortlessly in pairs, turtles feeding and mobula rays flipping out of the sea during another surface interval on the boat. Their silver underside shining in the sunlight as they tossed and flipped like marine pancakes. Big shoals of barracuda, not like the solitary ones I’ve been seeing the last six months and wahoo cruising above us. It was a smorgasbord of everything you could possibly wanna see.

On my penultimate dive yesterday I saw an octopus. My favourite marine animal and master of disguise. I was doing a safety stop at 5m looking at an eel 2m below me when I saw one tentacle then two and then it moved. Noone else heard me screaming into my regulator. Where’s my dive buddy Lara Croft? She’d have reacted immediately. I watched mesmerised as it drew its arms in tightly and hurled its body through the water. Within seconds it landed on a rock and camouflaged itself. Trying to find it again was impossible to point it out to the others.

Coiba is a mission to get to. A very bumpy hour ride. You will rise and fall the entire way slamming your butt on the seat. Eating a late breakfast is a bad idea too. The boats are built for speed and are small. If you’re precious and don’t like being jostled this is not for you. Snorkelers……toughen up!

The rainy season is the best time to go diving according to people I spoke to because there’s less thermoclines and the vis is better. No rivers, so no turbidity. There’s very little sand as such, to affect vis to 30m. The down side is stingy, cold rain pelting you in the face for an hour on the way back, but it’s a small price for this hidden gem. Pick up a fin and hide behind it!

The summer months are packed and the water temp can get as low at 15° at depth. There are 39 islands in total which are dotted throughout the marine park. They’re inhabitable. you used to be able to stay in basic accommodation at one point, but that’s changed now. There is a ranger’s station that does patrols. There also used to be a prison on the main island. Now there are walking trails.

I’ve loved ending my water adventure in Central America here. If time and money permits maybe one day I’ll return to Coiba. I hope it remains unspoilt for as long as possible. I didn’t see any mantas or whale sharks – but in a week I’ll be starting work in Thailand where there’s plenty of opportunity for that!!

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