As a volunteer, I’ve come to know the Wafer Bay Station and the surrounding area intimately, and I’ve gained a certain familiarity and feel for “the island.” However, only having been on two dives in my month here, I don’t know Cocos Island for that which it is most renowned: its spectacular diving. And I'm one of the lucky volunteers; many don't get the chance to dive at all. On the flip side, the visitors who come to the island aboard the numerous diving boats come to know the numerous diving sites around the island. They do not, however, know the Wafer Bay Station or the island, because they only come on shore once or twice during their time at Cocos Island National Park. What I’m getting at is this: the majority of people who visit Cocos Island know either the island or the dive sites around the island. There are a select few people in this world who have the distinct privilege of knowing both, who see the island in its entirety.
Enter Steven Alvarado Murillo (all of 34 years old), a funcionario at la Parque Nacional Isla del Coco, and one of those privileged few. Steven worked as an electrician and industrial technician for nine years, before deciding to quit his job, sell his car and house, and attend diving school. He spent a year accumulating dives and working his ways towards his Dive Master certification, and when he graduated, he secured a job with the Undersea Hunter Group leading dives at Cocos Island for tourist groups. He worked for a year with the Undersea Hunter Group - 25 trips in total - before he was fortunate to get a position as a funcionario.
As a guardaparque, Steven’s specializes in ecotourism (though he’s also the in-residence electrician). On land, he welcomes tourist groups that venture onto the island, explaining the park’s ongoing work to end illegal fishing, explaining the process or sorting out the confiscated fishing equipment. He accompanies groups on hikes up to the waterfall, or Cerro Iglesias, the island’s peak. In the waters around the island, Steven is one of several rangers responsible for the oversight and regulation of the dive sights. He is in charge of assessing and managing the impact of visiting divers. In recent months, the park has had to limit traffic to the site Manuelite Coral Gardens because of increased traffic’s impact on the ecosystem.
Steven and one of the Seahunter's crew in a discussion at the end of a hike up to the waterfall several kilometers upstream from Wafer Station
But according to Steven, the most important work he does is not the guiding, nor is it the oversight and regulation. He is one of the liaisons between the National Park and visitors who come aboard the dive boats, and at the outset of each dive trip when a boat arrives at Cocos Island, Steven motors out to the boat in Mobula, the park’s main transport launch, and gives a presentation to the visitors. This presentation is crucial, Steven says, because the best way to manage the impact of divers on the underwater ecosystems is to motivate them to practice low-impact diving. He tries to instill a leave-no-trace instinct in the visitors, because the park can oversee and regulate as much as it wants to, but ultimately it’s the choices of the divers as they explore that determines how well the flourishing submarine ecosystems are preserved.
Several nights ago, I asked him what his favorite dive site was. “All the places have something special, man, there’s not just one place. Punta Maria is where you go to see Galapagos sharks. Roca Sucia has spectacular schools of big-eyed jacks. Dos Amigos has a ripping current and breath-taking schools of hammerhead sharks. Alcyone has more marine life then any other site around the island. But they’re all good, they’re all special, they’re all beautiful.”
Also in the Cocos Island News today: This morning’s patrol encountered two fishing boats seven miles off the eastern shore of the island. Patrol chased the boats out of the park, but wasn’t able to get close enough to take down the boat names and numbers.