The entirety of Cocos Island has been designated a Costa Rican National Park
since 1978, and has no permanent inhabitants other than Costa Rican park rangers. Surrounded by deep waters with counter-currents
, Cocos Island is admired by scuba
divers for its populations of hammerhead sharks
and other large marine species. The wet climate and oceanic qualities give Cocos an ecological character that is not shared with either the Galápagos Archipelago
or any of the other islands (for example, Malpelo
) in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Because of the unique ecology of the island and its surrounding waters, Cocos Island National Park became a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Present status and international distinctions
Orthographic projection centred over Cocos Island
Thanks to the great diversity of marine life in its waters, Cocos Island was named one of the best 10 scuba diving
spots in the world by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors and a "must do" according to diving experts.
Popular dive spots around the island are Bajo Alcyone (hammerhead sharks), Manuelina Garden (coral garden) and Dos Amigos Grande (natural underwater arch formation).
For many, the main attractions are the large pelagic fish
species, which are very abundant in this unique meeting point between deep and shallow waters. The largest schools of hammerhead sharks in the world are consistently reported there. Encounters with dozens if not hundreds of these and other large animals are nearly certain in every dive. Smaller and colorful species are also abundant in one of the most extensive coral reefs
in the southeastern Pacific.
Famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau
visited the island several times and in 1994 called it "the most beautiful island in the world". Such accolades have highlighted the urgent need to protect Cocos Island and its surrounding waters from illegal large-scale fishing, poaching and other threats
The only persons allowed to live on Cocos Island are Costa Rican park rangers, who have established two encampments, including one at English Bay. Access by civilians is very limited; tourists and ship crew members are allowed ashore only with permission of island rangers, and are not permitted to camp, stay overnight or collect any flora, fauna or minerals from the island. Occasional amateur radio DXpeditions
are allowed to visit.
The island is also very popular in pirate lore. It is said
that over 300 expeditions have searched for buried treasure
there, such as the hoard of Benito Bonito, the Treasure of Lima
, and many others. Some small caches have been discovered,
leading many to believe that the stories of vast pirate treasures are true, though the majority of searches have been unsuccessful. Treasure hunting
is strictly prohibited by the Costa Rican government and permits are not being issued.
Geology and landscape
A waterfall at Wafer Bay, Cocos Island
Wafer Bay sunset
Cliffs known as "The Moai
Genius River bridge, made with marine debris by Tico artist "Pancho"
Cocos Island is an oceanic island of both volcanic
and tectonic origin. It is the only emergent island of the Cocos Plate
, one of the minor tectonic plates
. Potassium-argon dating
established the age of the oldest rocks between 1.91 and 2.44 million years (Late Pliocene)
and it is composed primarily of basalt
, which is formed by cooling lava.
The island is approximately rectangular in shape, measuring about 8 km × 3 km (5 mi × 2 mi) with a perimeter of around 23.3 km (14.5 mi).
The landscape is mountainous and irregular; the highest point is Cerro Iglesias, at 575.5 m (1,888 ft).
In spite of its mountainous character, there are flatter areas between 200–260 m (660–850 ft) in elevation in the center of the island, which are said to be a transitional stage of the geomorphological cycle of V-shaped valleys.
Cocos Island has a number of short rivers and streams that drain abundant rainfall into four bays, three of them on the north side (Wafer, Chatham and Weston). The largest rivers are the Genio and the Pittier, which drain their water into Wafer Bay. Sheer, 90-metre (300 ft) cliffs ring much of the island, preventing convenient access except at a few beaches; the easiest point of entry is at Chatham Bay.
The mountainous landscape and the tropical climate combine to create over 200 waterfalls throughout the island. The island’s soils are classified as entisols
, which are highly acidic and would be easily eroded by the island’s high rainfall on the steep slopes were it not for the dense forest coverage.
The climate of Cocos Island is mostly determined by the latitudinal movement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone
, which creates cloudiness and precipitation that is constant throughout the year.
This makes the climate humid and tropical with an average annual temperature of 26.6 °C (79.9 °F) and an average annual rainfall of over 7,000 mm (276 in). Rainfall remains high throughout the year, although lowers somewhat from January through March and again during late September and October.
Numerous oceanic currents from the central Pacific Ocean
, particularly the North Equatorial Countercurrent
, converge on the island and also have an important influence. The island has a tropical rainforest climate
Chatham beach on Cocos Island
The islet Manuelita is a popular site for diving and observing marine species
Cocos Island is home to dense tropical moist forests
. It is the only oceanic island in the eastern Pacific region with such rain forests and their characteristic types of flora and fauna. The cloud forests
present at its higher elevations are also unique in the eastern Pacific. The island was never linked to a continent, so the flora and fauna arrived via long-distance dispersal
from the Americas
, and the island therefore has a high proportion of endemic species
The island has three main plant communities. The coastal forests extend from the coast up to 50 m (160 ft) elevation. Purple coral tree (Erythrina fusca
), coconut palm (Cocos nucifera
), and pond-apple (Annona glabra
) are the predominant trees, with an understory of ferns, shrubs of the Rubiaceae
families, sedges and grasses, and herbaceous plants of the Leguminosae
The inland forests extend from 50 to 500 m (160 to 1,640 ft) elevation. "Palo de hierro" or huriki (Sacoglottis holdridgei
), "avocado" (Ocotea insularis
) and the endemic Cecropia pittieri
are the most common canopy trees. The trees are festooned at all levels with epiphytic plants
, including orchids
, ferns, bromeliads
and mosses. The understory includes sedges such as Hypolitrum amplum
and various species of ferns and tree ferns
, including Cyathea armata
and Danaea media
. The palm Euterpe precatoria
is also common. Cloud forests are found at the highest elevations, over 500 m (1,600 ft), where Melastoma
spp. are predominant.
The general vegetation of Cocos Island has greatly changed since the island was first named and described by Europeans. Captain Wafer, who visited the island in 1685 and whose name was given to the landing place, describes extensive coconut groves extending inland into the interior of the island. Thor Heyerdahl
posited that it was very unlikely that these groves developed naturally, and that pre-European man must once have cleared considerable areas in the ravine bottoms and interior plateaus and ridges, utilizing the clearings for coconut plantations of substantial extent. Heyerdahl theorized that these plantations were used to provide fresh liquid and food for pre-Columbian voyages (made by balsarafts
navigation) between Guatemala
and northwestern South America. After the Spanish conquest and its consequences, these voyages ended and the tropical jungle recovered the land that had been laboriously cleared by early human hands.
Two species of lizard
are found on the island, an anole
) and a gecko
); both are endemic. No amphibians
have been reported.
The island has no native land mammal
species, though five inhabit the island in modern times: pigs, deer, goats, cats, and rats, all of which were introduced by humans. The Costa Rican government has vowed to control the populations of these animals, as they are harmful to the local ecosystems.
The rich coral reef, volcanic tunnels, caves, massifs and deeper waters surrounding Cocos Island are home to more than 30 species of coral, 60 species of crustaceans, 600 species of molluscs and over 300 species of fish. These include large populations of yellowfin tuna
), giant mantas
) and sharks
, such as whitetip reef shark
) and scalloped hammerhead shark
). The largest of all species of fish is also present, the whale shark
). In December 2017, a female tiger shark
(a species that returned to the waters of Isla del Coco in 2012, after 30 years of not being seen in the area) killed New Yorker Rohina Bhandari while she was scuba diving in Manuelita in the Isla del Coco National Park.
The island's largely unperturbed habitats are, nonetheless, under growing human pressure. Illegal poaching
of large marine species in and around its protected waters has become a main concern.
Growing local and worldwide demand for tuna, shark fin soup
and other seafood is threatening the island's fragile ecosystems.
The government of Costa Rica has been openly accused of passivity and even benefiting corruptly from illegal shark fin and other seafood trade to large markets, such as China and other Asian countries.
The government has shown some willingness to protect the island's natural riches and prosecute poachers.
However, efforts to effectively patrol the waters and enforce environmental laws face big financial and bureaucratic difficulties, as well as being prone to the corruption of local, national and international authorities.
Recent events show that large-scale illegal poaching keeps happening. Despite initial hope in stopping and charging poachers,
who have been caught with abundant evidence,
they have often been quickly released under suspicious circumstances.
Also, efforts to raise funds for protection have been dwarfed.
Marvin Orlando Cerdas, a judge with the local Puntarenas Court of Justice, obscurely allowed 22 poachers caught red-handed to escape the country.
Also under highly suspicious and allegedly corrupt circumstances, District Attorney Michael Morales Molina stopped the auction for public benefit of confiscated goods immediately after the spokesman of the large illegal poaching ship Tiuna
simply made the request.
Discovery and early cartography
In his Historia general y natural de las Indias
(1535, expanded in 1851 from his previously unpublished papers), Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés
discusses the discovery of the island by his contemporary, Spanish navigator Juan de Cabezas (also known as Juan de Grado), in 1526.
D. Lievre, Una isla desierta en el Pacífico; la isla del Coco
in Los viajes de Cockburn y Lievre por Costa Rica
(1962: 134) tells that the first document with the name "Isle de Coques" is a map painted on parchment
, called that of Henry II
, that appeared in 1542 during the reign of Francis I of France
. The planisphere
of Nicolas Desliens (1556, Dieppe) places this Ysle de Coques
about one and a half degrees north of the Equator
(see also Mario A. Boza and Rolando Mendoza, Los parques nacionales de Costa Rica
, Madrid, 1981).
's Grand Atlas
, originally published in 1662, has a colour world map on the back of its front cover which shows I. de Cocos
right on the Equator. Frederik De Witt's Atlas, 1680
shows it similarly. The Hondius Broadside map
of 1590 shows I. de Cocos
at 2 degrees and 30 minutes north latitude, while in 1596 Theodore de Bry
showed the Galápagos Islands
near 6 degrees north
of the Equator. Emanuel Bowen
, in A Complete system of Geography
, Volume II (London, 1747: 586), states that the Galápagos islands stretch 5 degrees north
of the Equator.
Cocos Island was annexed by Costa Rica
in 1832 by decree No. 54 of the Constitutional Assembly of the newly independent country. Whalers
stopped regularly at Cocos Island until the mid-19th century, when inexpensive kerosene
started to replace whale oil for lighting.
In October 1863, the ship Adelante marooned
on the island when it was discovered that they had contracted smallpox
and were a danger to her crew. By the time the vessel Tumbes
arrived to rescue them one month later, only 38 survivors were found, the rest having perished from smallpox (see ʻAta
In 1897, the Costa Rican government named the German adventurer and treasure hunter August Gissler
the first Governor of Cocos Island and allowed him to establish a short-lived colony there.
On May 12, 1970, the insular territory of Cocos Island was incorporated administratively by means of Executive Decree No. 27, making it the eleventh district
canton of the Puntarenas Province
As a district, the island has the postal code of 60110.
The island's 33 residents, all of them Costa Rican park rangers, were allowed to vote for the first time in Costa Rica's February 5, 2006, election
. However, the rangers are not considered permanent residents of the district, therefore the census data considers the island to be uninhabited.
Piracy and hidden treasures
Cocos Island has featured heavily in many tales of pirate lore and buried treasure
. The first claims of treasure buried on the island came from a woman named Mary Welch, who claimed that 350 tons of gold (about $16 billion in today's money) raided from Spanish galleons had been buried on the island by Captain Bennett Graham
, a naval officer who had become a pirate in 1818. She had been a member of a pirate crew led by Captain Bennett Graham, and was transported to an Australian penal colony for her crimes. She possessed a chart showing where Graham's treasure was supposed to be hidden. On her release, she returned to the island with an expedition but had no success in finding anything, as the points of reference in the chart had disappeared.
Another pirate supposed to have buried treasure on the island was the Portuguese Benito Bonito
, who began terrorizing the west coast of the Americas around 1818.
Though Bonito was hunted down and executed, his treasure was never retrieved.
Perhaps the best-known of the treasure legends tied to the island is that of the fabled Treasure of Lima
In 1820, with the army of José de San Martín
, Viceroy José de la Serna
is supposed to have entrusted treasure from the city to British trader Captain William Thompson
for safekeeping until the Spaniards
could secure the country. Instead of waiting in the harbor as they were instructed,
Thompson and his crew killed the viceroy's men and sailed to Cocos, where they allegedly buried the treasure.
Shortly afterwards, they were apprehended by a Spanish warship. All of the crew except Thompson and his first mate were executed for piracy. The two said they would show the Spaniards where they had hidden the treasure in return for their lives, but after landing on Cocos, they escaped into the forest and were never recaptured.
Hundreds of attempts to find treasure on the island have failed.
Several early expeditions were mounted on the basis of claims by a man named Keating, who was supposed to have befriended Thompson. On one trip, Keating was said to have retrieved gold and jewels from the treasure.
German adventurer August Gissler
lived on the island for most of the period from 1889 until 1908, hunting the treasure with the small success of finding a few gold coins.
The book Desert Island
proposed the highly detailed theory that Daniel Defoe
used the Isla del Coco as an accurate model for his descriptions of the island inhabited by the marooned Robinson Crusoe
. However, Defoe placed Crusoe's island not in the Pacific, but rather off the coast of Venezuela
in the Atlantic Ocean.
Robinson's neighbouring Terra Firma
is shown on the colour map of Joannes Jansson
(Amsterdam) depicting the northeastern corner of South America
, entitled Terra Firma et Novum Regnum Granatense et Popayan
. It belongs to the early group of plates printed by Willem Blaeu
from 1630 onwards. The property called Terra Firma was the Isthmus of Darien
Crusoe's two references to Mexico are against a South American island as well.
- ^ "Isla del Coco". Ramsar Sites Information Service. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
- ^ Hogue, C. and Miller, S. 1981. Entomofauna of Cocos Island, Costa Rica. Atoll Research Bulletin 250: 1–29.
- ^ "Isla Coco". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-06-27.
- ^ "Declara oficial para efectos administrativos, la aprobación de la División Territorial Administrativa de la República N°41548-MGP". Sistema Costarricense de Información Jurídica (in Spanish). 19 March 2019. Retrieved 26 September 2020.
- ^ a b División Territorial Administrativa de la República de Costa Rica (PDF) (in Spanish). Editorial Digital de la Imprenta Nacional. 8 March 2017. ISBN 978-9977-58-477-5.
- ^ Kirkendall, L. and Jordal, B. 2006. The bark and ambrosia beetles (Curculionidae, Scolytinae) of Cocos Island, Costa Rica and the role of mating systems in island zoogeography. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 89(4): 729–743.
- ^ "Cocos Island National Par". United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Retrieved 13 May 2021.
- ^ "Ramsar Convention text in English". Ramsar.org. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
- ^ "New7Wonders: Live Ranking". 5 July 2009. Archived from the original on 5 July 2009.
- ^ "World's 10 best scuba spots". 8 August 2007.
- ^ "Cocos Island". 15 November 2016.
- ^ Guzmán, H. M. and Cortés, J. (1992). Cocos Island (Pacific of Costa Rica) coral reefs after the 2010-83 El Niño disturbance. Revista de Biología Tropical 40: 309–324.
- ^ TI9CF 1970 Cocos Island
- ^ TI9A DXpedition to Cocos Island
- ^ a b Castillo, P., Batiza, R., Vanko, D., Malavassi, E., Barquero, J., and Fernandez, E. 1988. Anomalously young volcanoes on old hot-spot traces. I. Geology and petrology of Cocos Island. Geological Society of America Bulletin 100: 1400–1414.
- ^ Montoya, M. 2007. Conozca la Isla del Coco: una guía para su visitación. In Biocursos para amantes de la naturaleza: Conozca el parque nacional Isla del Coco, la isla del tesoro (26 abril al 6 de mayo 2007). (ed. Organization for Tropical Studies). Organization for Tropical Studies. San José, Costa Rica. 35–176.
- ^ Malavassi, E. 1982. Visita al Parque Nacional Isla del Coco. Revista Geográfica de América Central (15–16): 211–216.
- ^ Stater, Adam. "Chatham Bay, Cocos Island".
- ^ Herrera, W. 1984. Informe de campo. Gira realizada a la Isla del Coco con el objetivo de recabar información climatológica. San José, Servicio de Parques Nacionales, 6 p.
- ^ Sinergia 69. 2000. Volumen 2. Aspectos meteorológicos y climatológico del ACMIC y su área de influencia. San José, Proyecto GEF/PNUD Conocimiento y uso de la biodiversidad del ACMIC, 184 p.
- ^ Trusty, J.L., Kesler, H.C. and Haug-Delgado, G. 2006. Vascular flora of Isla del Coco, Costa Rica. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences (Fourth Series) 57(7): 247–355. https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/40690591
- ^ Gomez, L.D. 1975. The Ferns and Fern-Allies of Cocos Island, Costa Rica. American Fern Journal 65 (4): 102–104.
- ^ Dauphin G. 1999. Bryophytes of Cocos Island, Costa Rica: diversity, biogeography and ecology. Revista de Biología Tropical. 47:309–328
- ^ Rojas, C. and Stephenson, S.L. 2008. Myxomycete ecology along an elevation gradient on Cocos Island, Costa Rica. Fungal Diversity 29: 119–129.
- ^ Heyerdahl, T. 1978. Early Man and the Ocean. Doubleday & Company, New York
- ^ Stater, Adam. "Endemic Birds of Cocos Island".
- ^ "Cocos Island". BirdLife Data Zone. BirdLife International. 2020. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
- ^ "País en guerra contra especies invasoras de isla del Coco - ALDEA GLOBAL - nacion.com".
- ^ "Wall Street big killed by shark while diving in Costa Rica". NYPost.com. 3 December 2017. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
- ^ "Costa Rica's Ministry of Environment Provides Information on Shark Attack in Isla del Coco – Costa Rica Star News". news.co.cr. 1 December 2017. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
- ^ ANNIE. 2012. Orca Whales. Costa Rica Scuba.com. Retrieved on August 25, 2017
- ^ Dyer Z.. 2014. VIDEO: Killer whales hunt tiger shark near Costa Rica's Cocos Island. The Tico Times. Retrieved on August 25, 2017
- ^ "Eco-Exchange – April–May 2001 – Modern-Day Pirates Plunder Saltwater Booty Near Costa Rica's Fabled Cocos Island]". Archived from the original on 14 July 2006.
- ^ "38 Million Sharks Killed for Fins Annually, Experts Estimate".
- ^ "CNN.com – Transcripts". CNN.
- ^ "Costa Rica Court Rules for Sea Turtles, Jails Captain".
- ^ "Cae atunero con pesca ilegal en Isla del Coco – EL PAÍS – nacion.com". Nacion.com. Archived from the original on 3 February 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
- ^ "El 'Tiuna' traía más de 280 toneladas de atún y explosivos – EL PAÍS – nacion.com". Nacion.com. Archived from the original on 29 May 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
- ^ a b "Juez puntarenense levanta medidas cautelares a atuneros – EL PAÍS – nacion.com". Nacion.com. Archived from the original on 17 February 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
- ^ "Dall'Anese: 'La isla del Coco está perdida' – EL PAÍS – nacion.com". Nacion.com. Archived from the original on 11 November 2009. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
- ^ Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, Gonzalo (1851) . José Amador de los Ríos (ed.). Historia general y natural de las Indias. Miguel de Cervantes Virtual Library. Madrid: La Real Academia de la Historia. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
- ^ J. Lines, Diario de Costa Rica, May 12, 1940
- ^ "Código Postal". Correos de Costa Rica. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
- ^ "Censo. 2011. Población total por zona y sexo, según provincia, cantón y distrito". Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (in Spanish). Retrieved 26 September 2020.
- ^ "Legends and Lore". PBS.org. Retrieved May 27, 2011.
- ^ a b MacInnis, Joe (1975). Underwater Man. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. p. 28. ISBN 0-396-07142-2. OCLC 1166443.
- ^ a b c d e f "Legends and Lore (Part 2)". PBS.org. Retrieved May 27, 2011.
- ^ Pirates of the Collection: and the quest for the 'Treasure of Lima'
- ^ "American Castaways Are Found On Tropical Island". The Daily News (Huntingdon, Pennsylvania). 29 October 1931. The ship had a slip-hawser on its anchor and instructions to await developments. But the captain and crew had ideas of their own. When morning came, Lima was still in the hands of the patriots but their treasures had vanished.
- ^ "Briton given permission to look for legendary treasure of Lima". The Daily Telegraph. 26 July 2010.
- ^ Walter Noble Burns (11 November 1911). "The Treasure of Cocos Island; The Romantic History of a Pirate Hoard on an Island in the Pacific". Newburg Telegram.
- ^ MacInnis, pp. 29–30.
- ^ Robinson Crusoe Enterprises, North Vancouver, 1996
- ^ See discussion page for further details.
- ^ Bowen, 1747: 593, and Charles Theodore Middleton, A new and Complete System of Geography, Volume II, London, printed for J. Cooke, 1777–1778, page 448
Last edited on 15 June 2021, at 20:00
Content is available under CC BY-SA 3.0
unless otherwise noted.