Pura Vida. Diving Cocos Island and an Uncertain Life for Sharks

Pura Vida. The good life. That sums up the experience of the past two weeks onboard the vessel Sirenuse at Isla de Coco, 350 miles off Costa Rica.

Life is good on this incredible vessel, with a crew enthusiastically behind the Pretoma team's efforts to document, and tag sea turtles and sharks. Onboard are biologists, fisheries managers and an elite film team including Manu San Felix and Leo Blanco, producers of the National Geographic film Shark Island.
The diving off Cocos Island is wild and breathtaking. Once a treasure cache for pirates, the true treasure lies below. Deep pinnacles, submerged mountain peaks and shear escarpments adorn the depths like pearls and diamonds. Hundreds of hammerheads, manta rays and sea turtles swim in the rich island ecosystem. Each day is filled with adventure exploring Roca Sucio, Alcyone and the  diversity of dive locations. We play hop scotch diving between the tourist dive boats (who have priority), and we are rewarded with a rich pallete of colors and life. Relatively intact, the marine system off Cocos has coral reefs, large aggregations of fish and apex predators.
It is a mystical experience to perch on a deep peak and watch a hundred hammerhead sharks slowly circle overhead, or display themselves for a parasite check to the tiny cleaner wrasses.
A large Manta Ray flies gracefully by and slides into the abyss. A pesky red parrotfish bites at my camera as I try to film the panoply of life above the reef. A diver can easily believe that this paradise is pristine and untouched.
Recognizing the unique treasure beneath the surface, the marine system of Cocos has been declared a reserve since 1978 and recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1997.  However, as we will experience, Pura Vida is waning beneath the surface.
The good life is experienced by SCUBA divers, but for sharks and other big fish in the reserve it is another story. It may be termed the uncertain life.
Illegal poaching is common in the reserve and the rangers with their small boat are hard pressed to enforce the no fishing zone. Turtles and sharks and rays are entangled in marine debris. One day we encountered a longline with scores of dead sharks in the reserve.

Onboard the Sirenuse, our tanks are filled, the great food is consumed with gusto and the owner and professional crew are as passionate as we are about protecting these ocean treasures.  Yet despite the beauty and myriad of fish here, shark fishing and finning are rampant in this reserve and along the Hammerhead highway between two other protected areas: Malpelo and the Galapagos. 

Over the next few weeks Ill update this blog and other writings and will be editing a film on the work of Randall Arauz, Pretoma and the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, our experiences tagging and tracking sharks and sea turtles and the battle against shark finning.

Profuse gratitude  to Ann Luskey, skipper Sean Guiness and the entire crew of the Sirenuse, as well as the hard work of the Pretoma crew, including the volunteer divers with Todd Steiner on the Argos who tagged turtles and sharks.  Pura Vida for sharks and all ocean life.