San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica High on Soon-to-Visit List for Divers

AFTER morethan a decadeguiding dives inCosta Rica, I havereturned to theWindward andLeeward Islands.I guided divesthroughout theseisland nations risingout of the farside of theCaribbean from abig sailboat, yearsago. Now I amback to help completely refit and sea-triala big sailboat, to bring her back to CostaRica so she can become one of the premiermarine-adventure, education and scientificplatforms in the country. It’s been amassive job, and we are in our sixthmonth of startup as I write this fromAntigua, in the British West Indies.I’ve had the chance to dive some ofthe sites where I used to guide trips yearsago. Despite the national park status, veryfew fish are left in the waters aroundthese islands. Dropping down beautifulcoral walls full of sea fans and sponges, Iam struck by the lack of fish. Even in thenational parks, there are basically no oldfish – you know, the ones that make allthe little fish. I believe a diver would seemore fish in one dive in Costa Rica thanin 50 dives around any of these islands.It seems small protected areas reallydon’t do much to keep real wildlifearound. I guess it’s too easy for fish toswim out and poachers to swim in to littleparks and refuges. With time, the ecosystembreaks down into a simpler, less magnificentsystem.The old fish disappear, and with themthe dolphins, the birds and the little fish.Then, the tourists start to look elsewhere.Soon, the fishermen head to other waters.What’s left, even in a national marinepark, is like a forest with no birds oranimals.Many tourists here in the islands arelooking for wilder places. Costa Rica isoften mentioned as a favorite destination,or one high on the soon-to-visit list,because of the perception that it offersrawer, healthier, more accessible nature. Ihope it will stay that way. I hope it won’tvanish before our eyes like it did here, inthe Windward and Leeward Islands of theeastern Caribbean.Right now, Costa Rica still has someof the world’s hottest diving, as evidencedby some of the reports coming in over thepast few weeks. It seems the diving ispretty much going off all over the country.And it looks poised to continue sweet onboth coasts for a month or so at least.Coco and Caño islands, protectedareas 300 and 12 nautical miles, respectively,out into Costa Rica’s Pacific, showthe usual excellent conditions, but thenorthern Pacific coast in Guanacaste andthe southern-Caribbean region ofTalamanca report great diving as well.Coral reefs complete with fish can befound right now in the southern Caribbean,with diving as good as the old-time memoriesof famous Caribbean islands. Many ofthe best sights of the Gandoca-ManzanilloNational Wildlife Refuge and CahuitaNational Park can be found right off yourown private, jungle-clad beach. Here, themysteries of the jungle and the sea combinelike few other places in the Caribbean– a tiny piece of what many islands mighthave been and perhaps once were.Those with the chance will want tocontrast Caribbean reefs and roots withPacific big beasts in huge numbers.Guanacaste’s waters are again living up towhat they are famous for: big stuff.Viviane Beckers of Resort Divers deCosta Rica described what’s thrillingguests these days – things like bull sharks,cow-nosed rays, giant manta rays, orcas atsunset, eels, harlequin shrimp and a lot offish. The Murciélago (Bat) Islands inSanta Rosa National Park have been a hotspot for recent trips.Now is the time to go diving in CostaRica. For information or to contribute tothe diving report, e-mail or call 818-9962.

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