Story by Solomon Baksh
Photos by Solomon Baksh & Wayne B. Brown
As I swam past the top of the towering pinnacle, beyond the wide amphitheater, filled with a dozen white-tip sharks lying idly on the white sand, I came upon an enormous school of Latin grunts, which completely blanketed the reef in the background. Swimming near the surface, was a school of blackfin barracuda and Pacific crevalle jacks, chasing after a shoal of baitfish. I am at El Bajo del Diablo (Devil’s Pinnacle) and it is the most popular dive site on Caño Island.
This lush 300-hectare island, is approximately 12 miles offshore from the Osa Peninsula, at Drake Bay in the Pacific Ocean and is as diverse on land, as it is underwater. Caño Island is part of the Puntarenas province and located just northeast of the Corcovado National Park, and was a former burial ground, dating back to the pre-Columbian time. Caño Island is often used as a migratory passage of birds that fly to warmer climates from the northern hemisphere, during the winter.
Aside from the evergreen forest found on the island, the only other trees growing out here include the rubber tree, cacao tree and some shrubs and bushes. This lush, green tropical island is home to resident tropical fish, beautiful colorful corals, marine flora, tuna, amberjacks, wahoo, rays, turtles, enormous schools of fish, humpback whales, pilot whales, white tip sharks, black tip sharks, nurse sharks and occasionally great hammerheads, whale sharks, marlin and dolphin can be seen.
Most of the action at Caño Island can be seen between 30–100 feet, with visibility between 20–80 feet. This is Pacific diving, with thermoclines that range from 70–84°F, with diving conditions that include surge and mild-to-strong currents. The tidal swings can fluctuate quickly on this Pacific coast making conditions unique, in that anything can be seen at anytime.
I am aboard the 110-foot steel Okeanos Aggressor I. The yacht gets its Greek name from the mythical river that runs around the earth. It has made over a thousand crossings between the town of Puntarenas in Costa Rica and Cocos Island since beginning its service in 1989. It was only at the beginning of this year (2017) that the Okeanos I started live-aboard operation in Caño Island and this was going to the be first time that it was going to Panama, to dive around Coiba Island. This was a treat for all on board.
Diving the Transcendent
Text by Bryan Hatch
Photos by Wayne B. Brown
Standing on the bow, getting my sea legs, I watch the sun as it goes down. I turn to head inside and realize that there is a gathering in the salon. Walking in, I notice a map stretched out across the dining table, with several people listening intently to Israel, our dive master, as he points to areas on the map. The discussion is about potential dive sites. “Not much is known,” “We have interviewed the local fishermen.” “We think there is a blue hole here, a cave here, an aqueduct here.” Yes, he did say “think.”
Our Cuban hosts have done reconnaissance on the area, as much as they can, for little is known about the underwater world of the Zapata because it is a protected area covering over 80 square miles. Diving in the Zapata is easy and amazing. There is very little current, visibility is incredible and there are indeed blue holes. There are walls, caves, and an abundance of wildlife. The sheer walls are dramatic and similar to Little Cayman or Lighthouse Reef in Belize.
The soft and hard corals are pristine and we were not surprised to find a diverse species of marine life common to the Caribbean. The very first thing I noticed was the almost perfectly round carpet anemone, a welcome portent to the remainder of our trip. Over 4 days, we completed 13 dives, including one night dive and a snorkel. All of the dives originated from a rather large and new tender. We dived on air; no nitrox available, which worked out great because some of the dives were as deep as 180 feet.
The healthy coral was ubiquitous and indeed so healthy that you might not believe they were real. The horn coral and huge pillar coral were worthy of marvel. The vertical walls were covered with incredible sponges beyond the imagination and in certain areas the vast gardens of healthy elk coral sprawled as far as the eye could see. This is where we snorkeled. The Cubans are very keen on conservation and tendered well away from the area in order to protect the coral. The entire area of the Zapata is an untouched marine ecosystem.
Everywhere we explored, there was no evidence of humans, bar one peculiar PVC pipe-looking thing that might have floated in during a storm. There has been some poaching by locals, but with new protections in place, fishing will be better managed in the future. A reoccurring theme for me in Zapata, was what I didn’t see—I saw no big animals. No sharks other than a few nurse sharks here and there. This is probably due to the poaching. Once that is under control, the larger predators will surely return. Our group, always in good humor, began to name the dive sites using several of the exotic names already in use by the local fishermen—The White Wall, The Blue Hole etc.
Lessons in Light
Text and Photos by Steve Miller
Every basic scuba class teaches the acronym Roy G. Biv as an easy way to remember the order in which colors are absorbed by the water column—Red,Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo then Violet. These colors are presented in the same order as a rainbow or a prism. The upshot of this is that when you descend deep enough, all you see around you are shades of.…violet? That’s because the water has absorbed all of the other colors, during your descent.
These 7 specific colors are actually a bit arbitrary—consider the many shades of blue in particular. The whole concept of color absorption can seem like one of those things you just have to remember to pass the scuba test…until you take a camera into the water. It is then, that color can confound you. The underwater environment can be a riot of color, compared even to a blooming flower garden, or it can have the tonal range of a black and white television—even the exact same reef! Managing light and color with a camera, is the photographer’s challenge.