The Taste of The Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Glassfish Bombie, Cocos (Keeling) IslandsFor many, this question still arises: "Where the heck is the Cocos (Keeling) Islands?" and more than likely they proceed to look for Cocos in the Pacific Ocean. WRONG! Now I have to confess, I was one of those geographically challenged people. After grabbing the ever trusty and very dusty atlas that had been deep buried since school days and after much searching, I found this tiny speck in the middle of the Indian Ocean

Schooling fusiliers, Cocos (Keeling) IslandsStill not sure where it is? Well, draw a line from Perth in Western Australia to Sri Lanka and then a horizontal line from Darwin and where the two lines meet is approximately where this tiny horseshoe shaped atoll is located. By the way, Charles Darwin visited the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in 1836 aboard the HMS Beagle and it was during this visit that he developed his theory of atoll formation. He spent some time exploring the southern atoll and also visited northern atoll some 24km further away. In his publication on coral reefs in 1842, he was the first to propose the theory of reef formation and evolution, building on his discovery of coralline fossils in inland areas and in mountains earlier in the journey and his visit to the islands. That theory, which is still held as valid, explains the dynamics of the three principal categories of coral formation.

A dugong swimming with dolphins, only at Cocos (Keeling) IslandsBefore moving to Cocos I was a non-diver so after a few months of being land-locked it became obvious that I really needed to learn to dive. That was nearly 7 years ago. My open water sessions were conducted in pool-like conditions at Direction Island, one of the most beautiful islands in the atoll. Here, whilst taking my first fin strokes and learning to trust the reg, endless schools of small fish came in close to investigate this clumsy noisy bubble blowing human. My first 18 metre dive was conducted at the Cabbage Patch and this is the first "taste of Cocos" I am going to share.

Kat, the solitary dugong at Cocos (Keeling) IslandsThe Cabbage Patch is one of my favourite dives and I suppose, as it was my first experience seeing the extraordinary colours the underwater has it remains etched for life. Huge stands of pristine golden and green Turbinaria reniformis Cabbage or Salad corals adorn the steep drop-off. It covers an area well over 500 metres square and is home to a myriad of fish life. Thousands of Goldenback Anthias (Pseudoanthias evansi) and An octopus posing for the camera, Cocos (Keeling) IslandsTernate Chromis (Chromis ternatensis) use the leafy formation of this hard coral as their refuge. When the sunlight hits the anthias and the cabbage coral it literally glows golden and with a blue water background, it really is an unbelievable sight. The corals end around a depth of 18 metres. From they're the scenery changes to a rocky substrate before ending on a pure white sandy beach adorned with red whip corals. Indian Ocean Bannerfish and Golden Damselfish appear to have claimed these whips as their piece of paradise. Travelling slowly along the slope the coral comes to an end and opens up to a lovely white sandy chute, home to hundreds of curious and shy Spotted Garden Eels (Heteroconger hassi). Great to watch hard to photograph successfully. Whitetip Reef sharks are often found sleeping on the sand now these are great to capture digitally as they tend to allow you a close encounter before slowly moving off.

Trapezia Crab hiding in a hard coral, Cocos (Keeling) IslandsJust a little further along the corals change to another greenish hard coral, Porites rus, a prostrate type of coral with fingerlike formations. Here I like to visit a very friendly Golden Damselfish. This little guy has its eggs lined up on an old strand of wire coral and is very photogenic and extremely co-operative while he protectively guards his eggs. It's just one of the many fish friends I like to check on regularly to see what has changed in the family.

Returning towards the boat at a shallower the full enormity of the Cabbage Patch becomes apparent. It truly is a spectacular dive site with its most amazing marine inhabitants.

Beautiful Whip coral at The Ski Run, Cocos (Keeling) IslandsThe Ski Run as the name suggests, it truly looks like a ski slope, falling gently at first to get your confidence before it drops steeply into an endless abyss. Another favourite and for the photographer, this is critter heaven. Here you can spend weeks and never really see all of what is on offer. There are bombies dotted here and there that have treasures of marine life that I am only just beginning to discover. Dotted over the snow-like slopes the bombies are covered in soft leather corals, porities, Lobophyllia and delicate sea ferns. Within these bombies, with their many hidey-holes are Durban Dancing Shrimps (Rhynchocinetes durbanensis), Yellow-margin Morays, Juvenile Emperor Angelfish, nudibranchs and thousands of tiny glassfish just to name some of the marine life. During my last dive our dive group discovered 3 different species of tiny pipefish and an indescribable tiny see-through shrimp.

Each time I go to the Ski Run I rarely fail to see octopus and usually it's not just one, but several. They are amazing to watch particularly when hunting with the scavenger mates, the Bluefin Trevally or Goatfish. I can spend hours with these guys (and sometimes my entire dive is with the occy's). Once they realise you aren't going to interfere, they happily allow you to accompany them on their hunt.

Ornate Angelfish (Genicanthus bellus), Cocos (Keeling) IslandsBlacktip Reefsharks in shallows of the lagoon, Cocos (Keeling) IslandsBut, I must move on from the shallows. If you are a deep dive junky, then the Ski Run can cater for you as well. Heading down the kiddies slope it drops sharply into a steep canyon with beautiful healthy stands of Gorgonian Fans and Whip Corals adorning its sides. And it is here at around 35 metres (and sometimes deeper) a very unique angelfish is found, the Ornate Angelfish (Genacanthus bellus). Rarely seen, let alone photographed, these gorgeous fish have the most tenacious character, swimming towards you most defiantly before taking cover under one of the ledges. I have only seen the females and can only assume the males are around somewhere. However the female's unusual markings and colouration is most beautiful.

Blacktip Reefsharks in shallows of the lagoon, Cocos (Keeling) IslandsObviously at these depths, bottom time runs out pretty quickly, however as most of the smaller bombies and their hidden treasures are at 10 metres and shallower, you can spend heaps of time off gassing whilst exploring.

The Cabbage Patch and Ski Run are just a miniscule taste of diving on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. There are over 30 regularly dived sites and hundreds more to discover. I haven't even mentioned the mantas, sharks, dolphins, turtles, tuna and barracuda that are regularly seen, or the unusual and gentle dugong, Kat, who made Cocos his home some 4 years ago. The diving is extremely diverse and caters to the majority of divers, whatever their interest.

Crowds are not an issue as Cocos Dive is the only dive operator. Between their two vessels, Putri Laut and Sayap Kecil, the maximum number of divers they cater to is sixteen, with preferred numbers from four to ten.

For more information contact:
Dieter Gerhard at Cocos Dive

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