Scuba Diving Brazil – Malpelo
Malpelo is the Mount Everest of Sharks!
Looking for sharks? Nowhere else in the world you can dive with so many sharks and big fish. You will see schools of hammerheads and silky sharks, plus a variety of other shark species, like the Galapagos shark, whale shark and white-tip shark, together with huge schools of other big fish species. Diving Malpelo Island is shark diving at its finest!
Besides Cocos Island, there is no other place in the world where you can encounter such huge schools of hammerheads and silky sharks! Malpelo Island is home to a large variety and quantity of marine creatures. Of special interest is the hammerhead shark with its awe-inspiring schools, reaching up to 300 hundred individuals. The enormous congregations of silky sharks that often mix with hammerheads to form colossal shark schools and the huge number of cluster and free swimming moray eels are the two most outstanding phenomena in Malpelo.
Another advantage for Malpelo divers is provided by the Colombian government, not nature. Access to Malpelo is very limited. There are few live-aboards that are permitted to go to the island. The presence of small Colombian marine outpost and the very short wide open shoreline of the island help keep away the poachers.
Considering that Malpelo is an oceanic island quite far from the continent, it is ideal for adventurous people, scientific researchers, diving lovers, birds and photography admirers, etc.
Malpelo island is a large rock formation that plunges into the abysmal depths of the Pacific Ocean. This is a wild and spectacular marine environment that is renowned for its abundance and quantity of schooling of sharks and big marine animals.
Malpelo is a national park and as such, a 20 mile zone around the island is declared as a no fishing zone. In 2006, the UNESCO declared Malpelo as a world heritage site
Isolated in the Pacific 506 km/314 miles west of Colombia. This sinister and forbidding Island is an basaltic seamount with sheer cliffs rising 13, 200 ft/4,000 m above the ocean floor. The highest point, “El Cerro de La Mona,” is 376 m above sea level; Malpelo Island is surrounded by a dozen satellite rocks, each with its own appeal. All were formed between 17 and 20 million years ago and are of volcanic origin.
Malpelo was once eight to ten times larger than its present size of eight 8 square kilometers. The constant pounding of the ocean and weather have eroded the island forming steep cliffs and sea caves along its coastline.
Malpelo Island consists of a sheer and barren rock with three high peaks, the highest being Cerro de la Mona with a height of 300 metres (980 ft). It is the only island that rises above the surface from the Malpelo Ridge, which is a solitary volcanic submarine ridge that extends in a northeast-southwest direction with a length of 300 kilometres (190 mi) and a width of 100 kilometres (62 mi). This island is surrounded by a number of offshore rocks. Off the northeast corner are the Tres Mosqueteros. Off the southwest corner are Salomon, Saul, La Gringa, and Scuba. As an oceanic island, this island has never been connected with any other islands or the mainland.
The terrestrial fauna of the island is adapted to the barren conditions and the deposits of guano which are the basis of the island’s ecology, both on land and undersea. There are twelve endemic species, five terrestrial and seven marine. The island is often visited by some twelve species of migratory birds, including the red-billed tropic bird, red-footed booby, black noddy and the great and magnificent frigate bird.
Endemic to the island are one crab species, two starfish, various species of coralline fish, and two reptiles. Algae, moss and lichens cover the rugged cliffs of Malpelo which host the 2nd largest masked booby colony in the world, approximately twenty five thousand birds.
THE MALPELO REGION – 6 DIFFERENT CURRENTS
The submarine environment surrounding Malpelo is defined not only by its isolation but also by its location, which is highly influenced by several diverse marine currents. 6 major oceanic currents that bring plankton-rich waters converge in this region. The upwellings produced by these currents along the walls of Malpelo are the main reason for the abundance of sharks in this area, which is more than in any other place in the world.
The Tropical Eastern Pacific is unsurpassed for interactions with big marine life. The west coast of both North & South America is washed by two grand oceanic currents: the California Current from the North and the mirroring Humboldt Current from the South, which makes the west coast a classic upwelling zone. Near the Equator, the collision of two gigantic streams is further mixed with another upwelling produced by the stable, low-pressure system of the Tropical Convergence Zone – the place where the ever-in-zenith sun heats the air, and easterly trade winds of the Northern and Southern hemispheres converge into high-towering clouds and thunderstorms.
Strong ocean upwelling feeds a huge pyramid of marine life, and there is no better place on Earth to see the top of that mighty pyramid than the remote volcanic islands of the Tropical Eastern Pacific. You should keep in mind that combination of surg, strong currents, and a remote location can make this a challenging destination, but when conditions are right it is the best in its class.
WHAT YOU SHOULD EXPECT TO SEE
17 species of marine mammals, including the humpback and blue whale, 5 terrestrial and 7 marine reptile species, 61 species of birds, 394 species of fish and 340 species of mollusks have also been recorded.
Common sights are the white-tip shark, Galapagos shark, giant schools of angelfish, Creole fish, jacks, tuna, and occasionally a sailfish, a whale shark and even humpback whales and blue whales. The rare, deep water ragged-tooth shark also can be encountered in the colder depths. While there are many different fish species in Malpelo, don’t be entirely absorbed by the reef. You can admire Pacific fish in other places on much cheaper dive trips. Look into the blue. The most interesting stuff swims in from the open water. Beware though – if you look for too long to the right, you are surely missing something on the left.
Visibility ranges between 10 meters and 35 meters (33 feet to 115 feet). Occasionally, there can be upwellings full of plankton that bring a lot of fish but at the same time reduce visibility.
Water temperatures: range between 16 and 24 C (61 to 75 F) on the surface. Thermoclines start at 15 meters (49 feet), which sometimes totally disappear.
Air Temperatures: January & February 14cthe rest of the year 28c
Dive Level: you should have at minimum AOW certification, have experience with dive 60-130ft, surg and strong currents.
Dive Season & Conditions: Nice diving all year round. Can be tough conditions with strong currents, surg and rapid drops in water temp, expect some choppy seas. January is usually the calmest period.
Special DIVE Considerations
Surface Marker: In open ocean diving your safety marker should be big – about six feet. A smaller one might be obscured by the waves.
Dive Conservatively: in Malpelo because the nearest decompression chamber does not exist – plain and simple.
Descents and Ascents: are without a line as most dive sites are located close to the main island and anchoring is not permitted anywhere within the marine protected area.
You should also be comfortable with your ability to handle strong current, surge, high swells and live entries to an immediate negative descent. This is because most of the dive sites do not allow for anchorage or moorings, and many of them are small underwater pinnacles.
DIVE SITES INFORMATION
Malpello has approximately 20 diverse dive sites:
La Nevera “The Fridge”: Wall dive, with lots of hard corals and volcanic landscape.Massive schools of hammerhead sharks and other big pelagics.Look out for silkies, whale sharks, tuna, rays, eels and jacks.This is the cleaning station site where schools of scalloped hammerheads and smaller groups of Galapagos sharks visit to be cleaned by the abundant fish. Moray eels are also very common here. – this is as close to guaranteed shark sightings as you can get in Malpelo.
El Altair de Virginia: Also called ‘The Reef’, with large coral formations and lots of reef fish, snapper, bass, surgeonfish, angelfish, Morrish Idols and morays.Schools of barracuda and jacks are common and maybe the occasional hammerhead. a great site for hammerhead shark sightings as well as multiple eagle rays. There was more color at this site with some hard corals and many fish.
La Ferreteria: Small underwater pinnacle off the southern end of Malpelo Island. Impressive is the sheer density of marine life found here: multiple eels sharing one crevace, multiple large scorpionfish stacked on top of one another and more surprises. Currents are very strong, so you need to be careful not to get blown off the pinnacle or get pushed into it and cause damage.
La Cathedral: This site is off the northern end of Malpelo Island and features a large pass through cave. Large schools of fish, including bigeye trevally jacks, are frequently spotted here. Descend onto the pinnacle then enter the tunnel from a sandy bottom at 18 metres that almost reaches the surface on the other side. The tunnel walls are covered in corals and sponges. Inside the tunnel is full of many fish, which creates a mystic feeling
Bajo Del Monstruo: This is a pinnacle off the northern end of the island, which can only be dived in good conditions. It’s known as a fish spot although sharks can also be spotted. Huge schools of leather bass and creolefish navigate the strong currents. On the sides of the pinnacle where there is less current, the structure is entirely covered with delicate yellow-orange anemones, so you must take care not to cause accidentally damage.
La Cara del Fantasma: Near El Altair de Virginia, Fantasma is a wonderful site where you can see large schools of fish like blue and gold snappers, whitetip reef sharks and hammerheads, while schooling pacific barracuda often frequent the site.
La Gringa: This site lies off the southern end of the island, with its most notable featuring being a large cave with fish living inside.
El Acquario: One of the coldest sites at Malpelo. The underwater pinnacle has diverse fish life and frequently gets hit with strong currents.
PHOTO TIPS From Blue Water Dives
Look for thermocline. Large sharks huddle there. If the shark is below you, never swim towards it as it will dodge deeper. Wait. Sharks circle around and will probably come back towards you. Whale sharks are an exception.
For hammerheads, the dive guides advised that it’s best to tuck down and essentially try to camouflage yourself as part of the rocky reef near the cleaning stations. If you swim towards the sharks or are up floating above the reef they tend to avoid you.
Also keep in mind that hammerheads fear strobe flash. If one comes toward you, remember that you have a single photo opportunity. Wait patiently for the best photo opportunity.
For compact shooters, having a wide-angle or fisheye lens will be great in situations where you are able to get closer to subjects, however if you are finding the sharks aren’t coming close enough for portraits, you may be better off using the native lens on the camera.
If you are shooting with a mirrorless or DSLR camera, a wide-angle zoom lens is recommended for most shark photography at Malpelo. The full 180 degree view on a lens like the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye can be too wide for most of the interactions, since these are natural encounters and the sharks are not guaranteed to come close.
Try using your strobes on low power if the sharks are coming close enough for the light to make a different, adding a little light and color without blowing out their white underbellies. If the sharks are further back then stick with ambient light or try shooting video instead.
GENERAL COUNTRY INFORMATION
GETTING THERE: Permission to visit must be requested from the National Natural Parks offices in Bogotá. You must go via liveaboard. Liveaboards leave either from Panama or Columbia, and take about 32-35 hours to get there.
Fly into Panama. Many airlines fly regularly to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City:
Latin America – Copa Airlines, Taca, and Avianca
North America – American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines
Europe – Iberia and KLM’
DEPARTURE TAX: For international commercial flights, there is a tax of USD 40 per passenger at the moment of departure
PASSPORT & VISA: A passport is required and depending on your citizenship, you may need a visa or tourist card to enter the country. We recommend that you check with your local embassy prior to booking the trip.
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