Posted July 31, 2008 in Oxx Tales by Jim Markel
Red Oxx’s CEO Jim Markel gets down with the barber fish, until an Oceanic Great White Shark slips in for a trim.
Sharks aren’t the only thing that will raise your pulse at Cocos Island. How about the billion dollars of treasure buried there? Pirate treasures are hidden all over. No, really.
Perhaps the single greatest treasure buried on the island is the 350 tons of gold bullion claimed by Mary Welch. While a crew member working for pirate Bennett Graham in the 1820’s, Mary said she witnessed the burying of the treasure. She announced her secret knowledge after being let out of prison 20 years later, and said she possessed a chart showing it’s location. Bennet, a former captain in Her Majesty’s navy, had shown remarkable success as a pirate before being caught and executed with his crew. Mary’s life was spared.
Shawn and I wondered at the thought of the treasure still being buried nearby. For all of Mary’s claims, upon returning to the island she said the lay of the land had changed too much for her to orient herself to the chart. The expedition to recover the treasure came up empty handed. I scanned the shore. Now where would be a likely spot….
Well, we shook off the thought. We weren’t going treasure hunting but diving, and some fairly aggressive diving at that.
Back underwater at a dive spot called Silverado, I looked up to see a fly-by from a giant Manta ray. With a wingspan of over 20 feet, I was awe-inspired. The ray seemed to be coasting along an invisible current. A cold stream from the shore flowed into the ocean above us. I could feel the icy water mixed with the warm Pacific.
Silverado is a favorite spot of the Barber, a fish with a remarkable role to play in the underwater ecosystem. Sharks come in to the area and the Barber fish slide up to them. The Barber cleans the parasites and nips off any loose skin. We watched the sharks go into a trance as they were being cleaned; imagine the face of someone getting a great neck massage and you’ll get the picture.
Just as we were settling in for the show, a nasty looking shark came in for his weekly “haircut.” Shawn and I shared a glance: an Oceanic White. These sharks are known to snack on people. They are also territorial — and here we were, at his barber shop!
We watched him as the Barber fish did their work, darting about the massive white body. If he decided to have my cousin for lunch, there would be little I could do for Shawn. The feeling reminded me of those lions in Zambia – if they decide to have you for lunch, then they’re having you for lunch.
Well, you know the end of the story, as I lived to tell it. But the thrill of observing a magnificent species in its natural environment is something I relish. It’s a celebration of life and the natural order of things. I have always enjoyed the magical little moments of seeing something like this for the very first time.
For the remainder of our trip, other great moments will not be forgotten:
We ventured inland to the largest waterfall on the island. First we made a rough beach landing on a rock beach with a rough break. After hacking our way through rainforest jungle without a clear trail, we approached the falls. After the hike in it was like stepping into a cool shower. At the bottom of the falls was a deep pool where the wind was intense and the mist was stinging at gale force. We all swam in the grotto-like setting. For a moment, all was as it should be.
Diving at night can be an assault on the senses. We worked in the shallows of the bay, among smaller reef sharks. They moved in formation: searching, hunting in an almost rhythmic manner. I witnessed a struggle for life – the quick and the dead.
Our last dive led us to a spot discovered by Jacques Cousteau. A submerged reef at 90 feet with strong currents on descent, we went down the marker buoy line carefully. You don’t want to let go here or they will be picking you up in the Galapagos. Once down, a school of hammerheads lurked in the darker blue shadows.
Ascending, I spied a few large shapes nearby. Whew, just a pod of dolphins checking us out.
Saying goodbye to our new friends, we headed back to the Aggressor. The crew had a party set and waiting. As the Captain fired the diesels, we cranked the reggae and headed for home.
Cheers, Jim Markel CEO
PS. Like to plan a trip like this? Go diving with these pros: Aggressor Fleet. "Eat sleep dive" is their motto, and they mean it.