Listed on National Geographic’s Ultimate Adventure Bucket List, Cocos Island off the shores of Costa Rica offers some of the best scuba diving in the world.
Three hundred miles southwest of mainland Costa Rica, hundreds of avid scuba divers choose to make the journey to visit the remote National Park each year. It is not easy (or cheap) to get to, but worthwhile, providing abundant opportunities for divers to up-close observations of at least 200 species of fish, 15 species of sharks, and numerous species of rays and whales. Cocos Island is believed to be the last place on Earth where one can always see big schools of large fish, including hammerhead sharks, whitetip sharks, and trevally.
Of 235 identified plant species in the area, 70 are endemic to the island and at least 18 corals have been identified in the park. Cocos Island is known internationally as a shark sanctuary and an important biological corridor linking the much bigger Galapagos Islands of Ecuador to the south. In 1997, UNESCO declared Cocos Island a World Heritage site.
However, illegal fishing at Cocos Island, especially of sharks, remains a pressing issue in Costa Rica due to a lack of law enforcement capacity and little accountability for violating the law.
Before leaving office, former President Laura Chinchilla (2010-2014) signed a decree in April dedicating resources for the Costa Rican Coast Guard to patrol the 3,700 square-mile Underwater Mountain Marine Management Area that encompasses the Cocos Island National Park and surrounding seas. Costa Rica also recently completed a radar station on Cocos Island with financial assistance from the U.S. State Department that authorities hope will help deter and catch illegal fishermen in the protected waters.
Actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio spoke of his visit to Costa Rica’s Cocos Island in his call for greater protection of the oceans and marine life during a speech at the “Our Oceans Conference” in Washington, D.C. last week. In response to the need, DiCaprio promised that that his foundation will donate $7 million USD to ocean conservation projects during the next two years, in addition to a $3 million USD donation to the organization Oceana in support of its efforts to protect sharks, marine mammals and ocean habitat in the Eastern Pacific.