Mid April 2017 we took some days off to go on a long planned staff trip to Coiba National Park. Two days of incredible diving at spots that are too far to reach on daytrips and one night on Coiba Island with delicious food, lots of beer, wine and good company were a well-deserved end of the high season in Panama.

We left Santa Catalina on the 21st of April around 9am. But, as the ones of you who have dived with Panama Dive Center will remember, nobody leaves Catalina without having had his coffee in the morning. On two boats, Aracelli and Yuri, with our two captains Rubén and Eddie and the helping hands of our assistants Jorge and Solin, twelve enthusiastic divers took off to Coiba.

After a two-hour bumpy boat ride we arrived in Contreras, one of the most beautiful spots for diving in the national park, north of Coiba island. The dive sites Montaña Rusa and Sueño de Pescador are known to be full of life – big schools of snappers and jacks, frogfish and White tip reef sharks are seen frequently. Apart from spotted eagle rays and pelagic sting rays our favorite visitor, however, was a hammerhead, passing by at Sueño de Pescador, not noticing a bunch of amazed creatures with big tanks on their backs observing him.

On Coiba Island, after organizing rooms, a lovely lunch and a small hike on the island our „Divemasters in Training“ had to do their night dive. When the sun went down, four of us, equipped with flashlights, took the boat to a spot very close to the main island and explored the beauty of Coiba’s underwater world at night. We loved it, our captain and assistant did not. „Why can’t you dive during the day?!“, was Eddie´s complain, imagining ankering the boat and swimming back to the island in the dark, the time when island-crocodile Tito and his friends visit the beaches. But observing the creatures underwater during their „nightly“ routines was, at least for the four of us – one of the highlights of the trip and, in the end, nobody was eaten by a crocodile. A delicious dinner, a couple of beers and glasses of wine were the perfect end to an incredible day of diving.

The next day we took off to Isla Jicarón, one of the southern parts of Coiba National Park and very particular. To a lot of us, due to its location far off Santa Catalina, the dive sites were new, which was why everybody was quite excited about the upcoming dives.

The dive sites ‚La Catedral‘, in English ‚The Cathedral‘, and ‚La Lavadora‘, ‚The Washing Machine‘, are known for strong currents and spectacular formations of volcanic rock. They are located right next to each other and, as you might have imagined already, the strong currents underwater made us drift dive and spin around like in a washing machine; a lot of fun.

With these last dives and a long boat ride back to Santa Catalina our staff trip came to an end. We enjoyed every moment to the fullest. Thanks to everyone who joined and made it an amazing experience.

And the day finally arrived! On the 4th of June, Kim and I did our first day of freediving in the Pacific. After having spent nearly two weeks with the great team of Freedive Utila and getting the necessary gear together, we finally managed to find a day and try it all out.

Rubén, our captain, and his brother Melvin helping him out as assistant, found a great spot for us to let down the line, do our breath-ups and plunge into the deep. Lucky for us, Camilo accompanied us with his sidemount gear and took some wonderful video of our dives. And, as if just being down there wasn’t beautiful enough, two magical cow nose rays glided past as I reached the weights on one of my dives. A birthday gift for me from the ocean!

We are super excited to start regular training sessions and begin teaching this amazing course (starting mid July) to anyone who also wants to experience this very different kind of freedom

Click here to watch the whole video!

Giant Frogfish

When the bigger animals such as whale sharks and humpback whales leave or they are just not around, we turn our attention to other creatures in the ocean. Schools of barracuda, jacks and our beloved white-tips are still aplenty, but sometimes we also find some of the smaller ones hiding between the shells, rocks  and coral. Undoubtedly, one of our favourites is the frogfish.

These fantastic creatures, are a type of anglerfish, that can be found in tropical and subtropical waters off the coasts of Africa, Asia, Australia, North America and Central America. We are lucky enough to have resident giant frogfish here in Coiba National Park.

Frogfish have a textured exterior, and unique colors, spines and bumps that have the ability to change to match their surroundings, making them the masters in camouflage! Unlike many animals that use camouflage as a defense from predators, frogfish mostly use their abilities to attract prey. Their size is between 1/8 inch to 22 inches.

Frogfish are carnivores and also cannibals. They eat fish, crustaceans and sometimes other frogfish! Their mouth can expand to 12 times its resting size, allowing them to catch all sorts of prey, bigger than themselves. Frogfish have a modified dorsal fin that has a retractable lure resembling a shrimp, which is used to attract their prey. If their lure is eaten or damaged it can be regenerated. Using its fishing rod and lure the frogfish will dangle the bait in front of its head. An unsuspecting passerby will see the lure and become excited, swimming towards a seemingly easy meal, where it gets eaten by the frogfish. Frogfish have the fastest strike speed of any animal on earth! As their prey comes to them, frogfish move only when they sense danger or need to mate.

Because frogfish lack a swim bladder, they use their modified pectoral fins to walk, or even gallop, across the seafloor. They also walk by gulping water with its massive mouth, then forcing the water through it’s gills allowing it to move. The body moves very little as the frogfish huffs and puffs its way through the water column.

IMG_3316The female of these species lay eggs in the water and the male comes from behind to fertilize them. The abdomen of the female starts swelling as the egg absorbs water and this happens from 8 hours to several days before the laying of eggs. The male starts to approach the female two days before the spawning. The time of spawning is not known by scientists clearly, it may depend on the phase of the moon or a signal is possibly released by the female.

Once, Camilo´s sharp eyes spotted a minuscule yellow juvenile giant frog fish. No bigger that my fingernail this tiny miracle truly made our day. We managed to find it again and hope we will be able to track this little guy´s growth before it decides to leave or gets swallowed up.