One of the main highlights of our trip through Central America was our (first ever) live-aboard trip with the Nautilus Explorer to the Socorros. The week long trip aboard this ship to this remote archipelago was wicked. The Socorros are known for the encounters with big pelagics like sharks, manta's and even whales. The trip proved to be nothing short of spectacular with the highlight being diving with the biggest manta species in the world; the Manta Birostris.
As we arrived in Cabo San Lucas, the harbor where the Nautilus Explorer would be disembarking the previous group, we got the feeling of arriving in Cancun. Too many booze cruises and big all inclusive resorts were to be found in this town. We were more than happy when the Nautilus lifted anchor and sailed in the evening in the direction of the Socorros.
During the 24 hours boatride we were updated on boat protocols as well as emergency procedures. It was great to see how professional the crew was on this ship. We were very happy when we arrived in the early morning of the next day at Isla San Benedicto cleary a vulcanic island.
The first dive would be a checkout dive in a relatively sheltered spot on the leeside of the island. Although it was a checkout dive we got to see the big stuff straight away! We we sheltered in between some rocky outcrops on a divespot called The Canyon and peered into the deep to discover schooling hammerheads! There they were. A few of the sharks broke the ranks and swam to the reef to get cleaned by reeffish. Although the hammerheads supposedly do not come as close as they do at the Cocos islands it was a wicked encounter and our first hammerheads ever! On the way back to the boat a giant Manta Ray visited us for a brief moment which got us thrilled even more.
The next dive spot would be The Boiler the divesite which is most frequently visited by the Giant manta Rays. On the two dives we did there we encountered plenty of the big rays which come straight up to your divemask. The Boiler is a cleaning station where Clarion Angelfish pick the parasites and dead skin from pelagics that come in for a good clean up.
That the Manta Birostris different is from its relative the Manta Alfredi is only a recent discovery. Dr. Andrea Marshall wrote her scientific article on the discovery in 2009. The manta Alfredi is known as the reef manta and visits mainly reefs instead of off shore sites like the Socorros. Also, the reef manta does not reach the size of the pelagic manta that grows upto seven meters in width. They are huge!
After the dives at The Boiler we set course for what some call the most famous divespot in the archipelago; Roca Partida. This rock named after the fact that is seems split is one of the most remote islands in the group and is famous for schooling sharks, whalesharks and sometimes even humpbacks or other whales. In the early morning we arrived at the site to a spectacular sunrise.
The dives that followed proved that Roca Partida is a big attraction for both marine life as well as divers. The rock is swarmed by fish big and small. Galapagos, silky and hammerhead sharks circle the rock. White tip reefsharks sleep and rest in the crevices in the rock and big yellow fin tuna hunt for fish on the southern and northern tip of the rock.
Last year a mother and calf pair was resident for a few weeks at the rock which delivered some amazing footage rivalling Tonga (if you ask me). Most of the divers aboard had seen it prior to coming over to Mexico. Nature decided however it was not meant for us, oh well. We did spot humpback whales though. As a matter of fact one of the humpbacks breached very close by the boat once we were prepping for ine of our dives. Attempts to get close enough to freedive with them proved however to be futile. The visibility at Roca Partida was better than at San Benedicto and one young male manta accompanied us on quite a few dives posing for a good photo now and then.
Sadly we were denied permission to dive at Socorro island since the Mexican army planned their yearly militairy drills exactly at the time we would want to dive there. The crew posed two options: more Roca Partida (which we had been diving for two days straight) or back to San Benedicto for more manta action. We chose San Benedicto and with it, more manta action. This gave me the opportunity to get my shot of the black Manta Birostris, which had been eluding till that day..