Cocos Island National Park
Highlights of Cocos Island National Park
Introduction to Cocos Island National Park
Cocos Island is located off the coast of Costa Rica and is uninhabited except for the ranger office that has a permanent staff of island caretakers. It is one of the National Parks of Costa Rica. The island is located on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica approximately 340 miles (550km) from the mainland. The island has an area of 9.2 square miles (23.8km2) and is in the form of a rectangle.
The island is located in deep water with many currents that flow against one another. Cocos is a popular scuba destination because the waters around the island are full of manta ray, dolphins and Hammerhead sharks as well as other large marine life. The area is very humid and because of that the ecosystem is not shared with any other island in the region.
In 1978 the island became a part of the Costa Rica National Park System. And the National Park was decreed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. An expanded marine zone surrounding the island was included in 2002 by UNESCO. The island is also listed as part of “Wetlands of International Importance.”
Guide to Cocos Island National Park
Because of the marine life that fills the waters around Cocos Island the area was named one of the world’s ten best scuba diving destinations by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). For a number of divers the large pelagic species are the main attractions. They are abundant in the area where shallow and deep waters meet. It is said that the largest hammerhead shark schools are often seen in the waters around the island. Alcyone, Silverado, Piqueño Dos Amigos and Manuelita Island are only a few of the well known diving spots around the island.
It is almost a certainty in any dive to see dozens if not hundreds of hammerheads. There is also an array of different species of marine life that are extremely colorful and call these waters home. Jacques Cousteau the well known oceanographer visited several times and called the island the most beautiful in the world in 1994.
Park Rangers are the only people allowed to live on the island and they have two areas where they stay. Island rangers must give permission to ship crew and tourists to come ashore. They cannot set up camp, stay the night or take any fauna, flora or minerals off the island.
The island is of both tectonic and volcanic origin. The landscape is quite mountainous and the summit is at 575 meters at Cerro Iglesias. There are areas of much less elevation in the center of the island. There are four bays three of which are on the north and a number of streams and rivers that the abundant rainfall drains in to.
The largest of the rivers are Pittier and Genio that both drain into Wafer Bay. There are over 200 waterfalls on the island. The island’s climate is mainly cloudiness with a great deal of precipitation all year long. This makes for a tropical and humid climate with temperatures that average around 74ºF annually with annual rainfall of over 275 inches.
The island, since it was never linked to the mainland has a large number of endemic species of flora and fauna. High elevation cloud forests are unique in this area of the Pacific Ocean as well as the dense and lush rain forests.
It is thought that there once were coconut groves on the island and that pre Europeans used the island for coconut groves to provide food and fresh liquid for the pre-Columbian voyages that took place between Guatemala and the rest of South America.
There is an abundance of coral reef, caves, volcanic tunnels, massifs and other geographic formations below the waters that surround the island. The waters have 30 different species of coral, 600 mollusk species and over 300 different fish species.
Mammals are plentiful with bottlenose dolphins, pilot and humpback whales. Reptiles include olive ridley turtles, green turtles and hawksbill turtles.
Video of Cocos Island National Park
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History of Cocos Island National Park
The first to discover the island is claimed to be Johan Cabecas. But there are a number of publications and maps that mentioned its existence including one made of parchment from 1542 during Francis I reign in France.
In 1832 the island, by way of decree No. 54 of Costa Rica’s Constitutional Assembly, became a part of Costa Rica. Whalers always used Cocos Island as a stopping point up through the middle of the 19th century. The industry collapsed at that point due to extreme over fishing. Over 400 ex-slaves were left on the island from Polynesia in 1863. Only 38 survived an outbreak of small pox and were rescued a month later by another ship.
A colony was allowed to be formed there in 1897 by the government of Costa Rica. German treasure hunter and adventurer August Gissler who was also named the Governor of the island administered the colony. The island park rangers, all 33 or so of them are the islands only residents now and in the 2006 national elections were able to vote for the first time.
There have been multiple claims that treasure has been hidden on the island as well as in the waters that surround the island. One claim by a woman said there were 350 tons of gold buried on the island. To date there have been hundreds of failed attempts trying to find treasure.
Getting to Cocos Island National Park
Cocos Island is almost 340 miles off the mainland from Costa Rica and the only means to reach the island are via cruise ship or dive tours. Trips often are for 10 day diving excursion but since it takes 30 hours to arrive you lose three days traveling.
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