Meet Henry Cookson, founder of Cookson Adventures, a British luxury travel company bringing the worlds most extraordinary adventures to your fingertips. He has lived and trained in Alaska and the Yukon, worked on a riding safari in the Kenyan bush, been a jackeroo on a remote sheep station in Australia and spent many summers hosting villa holidays in Greece. His passion for exploration reached new levels in 2004 as he prepared for the Polar Challenge and then the Pole of Inaccessibility, for which he holds a world record. Henry shares his top 5 scuba diving destinations below:
All my life I’ve sought out interesting, remote and unusual places and it’s a well-known fact that the least explored part of our planet is our oceans. I came to scuba diving quite late, but the combination of being under the waves and being amongst some of the most graceful and beautiful creatures on the planet has made it my passion in the last five or six years. There’s something very special about the sensation; the freedom of being suspended in the vast expanse of an ocean is like flying underwater.
When you start delving beneath the waves you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of life down there, from the micro, all the way to the gigantic; from little nematodes to whale sharks. Conservation, too, is incredibly important because people don’t realize the extent of the issues and causes that need urgent attention both above and beneath the waves. A lot of the work we do at Cookson Adventures is centered around allowing the protection and discovery of marine life, whilst giving clients the chance to build a connection with nature. We are working with a number of partners worldwide to give more people awareness and empathy towards what’s under our waves.
I feel very privileged to have been to some of the best spots for scuba diving on the planet and here are my top five.
1. Cocos Island, Costa Rica
The filming location of Jurassic Park, the moment you arrive at Cocos Island, a speck in the Pacific found to the west of Costa Rica, you know you are somewhere special. A big rock shrouded in mist and covered in lush vegetation in the middle of the Pacific, waterfalls cascade off cliffs onto the beach hundreds of feet below; it’s absolutely extraordinary. The setting makes the overnight cruise worth it, as does the fact it’s one of four main tropical Pacific points where sharks and other marine life congregate.
Beneath the waves, it’s a demanding place. There are strong currents but diving down quickly and hooking onto the reef provides a true spectacle of nature at its finest. Hammerhead sharks lackadaisically cruise backwards and forwards, yet very little is known about their movements and behavioural patterns. When we go to such places, we like to give back, contribute to research, bring in experts and I’m itching to get back there with a submersible, so we can dive deeper and not be beholden to depth or time limitations. There are also incredible night dives when nocturnal white tip sharks congregate in their hundreds to feed. Witnessing that sight is a truly unique experience that you don’t get anywhere else on the planet.
2. Darwin and Wolf Islands, Galápagos Archipelago
The Galápagos Islands are unrivalled in terms of the range and uniqueness of their endemic wildlife and some of our recent work there has been heavily conservation-centric. We’ve done big projects with the local authorities releasing juvenile giant tortoises back into the wild and contributing to the eradication of invasive species. It’s crucial work.
For the adventurous diver, Darwin and Wolf Island are rocky outcrops north to the main cluster of the Galápagos Islands, accessible only by overnight boat but more than worth the trip for a chance to see the magnificence of a whale shark cruising above you. Up to 12 metres long, weighing some 30 tonnes, yet silent and graceful, they’re like star ships gliding through the galaxy and the patterns on them are like looking at the Milky Way.
Yet we still don’t know quite why they’re there, where they’re going, where they give birth, and many more details about this imperious – yet unfortunately at risk – species. That they are hunted for shark fins is mortifying, so we are helping conservationists and researchers in their study.
3. The Bahamas
With upwards of 700 islands, all offering something different, The Bahamas is a unique place. You can cruise around for months without seeing even a fraction of what it has to offer. In a way it’s the accessibility (given the proximity to Florida and the Caribbean) that makes this such a world-famous and appealing location to dive. Most of the time, you have to go to very remote places to get really interesting diving, but The Bahamas is an exception. The conditions are also perfectly suited to the beginner diver; warm waters, currents that aren’t too severe and fantastic visibility. Shallow waters, too, stretching for hundreds of kilometres out from the shore, make for some incredible colours and a fertile area for shark and marine life.
Multiple species of sharks – hammerheads, oceanic white tips, reef sharks and tiger sharks – can be seen and, although these are wild creatures, with the right behaviour and the right people managing you and looking after you, swimming with them is a very safe and rewarding experience. The area is also brilliant for the wider family; kids can play on beautiful beaches, feed stingrays, snorkel with dolphins, paddle down mangroves and explore caves – it’s not all just underwater focused.
4. Baja and Revillagigedo
Baja California, Mexico, and the Revillagigedo Archipelago are the meccas for diving. Baja is well known for places like Cabo San Lucas where people go to party for spring break, but just north is Cabo Pulmo and the Sea of Cortez, which Jacques Cousteau famously described as the world’s aquarium. Amberjacks, bull sharks, sea lion colonies, nursing whales, blue whales can all be found here, and you don’t even need to dive for most of it; in the case of sea lions, inquisitive animals will come up and do loop-the-loops around you.
Further out into the Pacific, Socorro Island, one of the islands in the Revillagigedo Archipelago, is teeming with a staggering range of whales, dolphins, sharks, fish, rays and incredible rock formations in some of the world’s more isolated dive sites. It’s another trip that requires dedication since it’s a 30-hour trip on a boat to get there. In special circumstances for the time poor, there is the possibility to reduce this considerably with an arranged flight there. A particular highlight is ‘The Boiler’, a remnant of an extinct, underwater volcano that rises so close to the water’s surface that the spray can be seen for miles around. Divers can witness the harmony of nature in action as giant manta rays, up to six metres wide, circle around you, congregating to head to a nearby cleaning station. These creatures will simply glide through the ocean towards you and, even though they are alien-looking, you can see the intelligence their eyes. It’s another experience that can’t help but touch you and change your perception of our oceans forever.
5. Republic of Palau
Palau is a republic consisting of hundreds of islands scattered across the west Pacific. It is fascinating for its incredible displays of spawning fish, mixed with a rich history; the area is littered with Second World War relics, both beneath and above the waves. There are abandoned tanks in the forests and fighter planes at the bottom of the surrounding oceans. It allows for those on longer trips do mix things up a little and not get too tired from doing three or four dives a day, which can be exhausting. You can even swim with juvenile crocodiles if you do the right sort of scouting and take the right precautions. But that’s not for everyone!
With huge congregations of parrot fish and red snapper offering up very fast, active and colourful displays of activity, and manta rays, dugongs (the only herbivorous marine mammals), Napoleon wrasse, sea turtles, beautiful reefs, incredible cave systems and many more incredible sights to behold, Palau is one of the places with the biggest range of things to do both above and beneath the water.
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