A Journey To The Revillagigedo Archipelago: Part 2

By Josh Davies

After 26 hours of sailing into the Pacific Ocean, we had reached our destination. The sun crawled over the horizon, illuminating the volcanic island of San Benedicto. We were in Socorro.

Not that it needs one, but a brief introduction for those that don’t know, The Revillagigedo Archipelago is just under 400 kilometres from the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico. It is host to four, mostly uninhabited volcanic islands which go by the names Socorro Island, San Benedicto Island, Roca Partida and Clarion Island. It was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2016 and is protected accordingly.

Normal diving protocol is to have the briefing of the dive site in the morning, and the subsequent 3-4 dives of the day held at the same dive site. Whilst traditionally, I’ve rarely seen this format of scheduling (except for Galapagos), it seemed to work well here.

We had ample space to gear up, and the back deck to board the panga (small rubber boat taking us to the dive site). For every dive, once I back-rolled off the panga, and broke the surface to descend down, my eyes were immediately scanning the area for all the creatures we had been briefed about.

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Silvertip shark

The Boiler

A submerged seamount, 5m below the surface, with the bottom at supposedly 60-70 metres, it’s aptly named due to the look that it has as water moves back and forth over the top of the plateau. As we approached a 30m drop-off at the beginning of the dive, I barely had chance to switch the camera on before I saw my dive buddies making the sign for a Tiger Shark. Supposedly a frequent flyer here in Socorro, but one species of shark I had yet to encounter. Once had just passed by the group. A large silky shark also cruised just below us. This one I did manage to see.

Numerous white-tip reef sharks were scattered around, and as we swam out into the blue, keeping the rock in our rear-view mirror at all times, a lonely hammerhead scout came to check us out. Not bad for a first experience of the Mexican Pacific. Subsequent dives that followed were also exciting. We found ourselves swaying with many white-tips in the swell, surrounded by schools of fish on the safety stop, and counting hammerhead sharks and silky sharks as they intertwined with our group, checking to see if we were a threat or not.

Wondering what different species of sharks you can see in Socorro? Check this out: https://theoceantravelagency.com/diariesfromthedeep11-sharksoupinsocorro/

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Jacks were typical on most dives. As were some quite sizeable lobsters.

The Canyon

Our next stop was The Canyon. Adjoined to San Benedicto, the dive site gets its name from the style of the topography underwater. Follow the canyon down from the drop off point to 27 metres, weaving our way through the jagged points, we were accompanied by silvertip sharks, Galapagos sharks, and scalloped hammerheads, all swimming calmy around the cleaning station. I had no idea where to look.

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The strange topography of San Benedicto and Socorro is fascinating

During the first day, our group were not fortunate enough to see any oceanic manta rays, so we were dubious as to the claims that Socorro was home to the “friendliest mantas in the world”. Yet it’s safe to say, The Canyon did not disappoint. Throughout all 4 dives here, we were constantly met with 2, 3, sometimes 4 giant mantas! They truly were magnificent.

We were also fortunate enough to have 2 representatives, Aldo and Marta from Manta Trust, conducting some research. To find out more of what Manta Trust does, follow this link: https://www.mantatrust.org/

As we headed back to the boat for the safety stop, a 4m Tiger Shark was patrolling the area we had dropped in only 40 minutes before. The visibility was slightly limited at this point, so it seemed to come out of nowhere. She slowed down to check us all out, and then went on her way. Swimming on and still stoked at being able to have this wild encounter with something so big and up-close, I nearly missed the 2-metre juvenile Tiger Shark that came up to us during the safety stop. He was a little more excited, which in turn made me a little more nervous. He didn’t stop around for long though. Though that was the last Tiger encounter of the day, the following dives were full of mantas and other species of shark. So far, Socorro was living up to the hype. I could have stayed here another day, without complaints, but we were on a journey, and the boat wasn’t hanging around!

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Trevally taking shelter under this giant Oceanic Manta

Roca Partida

Roca Partida has a lot to offer once you descended below the surface. It’s the smallest of the Revillagigedo Islands (Socorro Island being the biggest). Whilst the only thing giving it away from above the water is a 30-metre tall and 150-metre long broken, (ironically roca partida in Spanish means ‘broken rock) guano-covered volcanic rock, this unimposing formation shoots down to a plateau at around 80m, only to the go further down a few hundred more metres.

Many of the world’s largest mammals and fish pass by here on occasion. Some circumnavigate it throughout the year, whilst others call it home. Its most notorious resident were the schools of white-tip reef sharks. Whilst we had seen a few already in the previous days, I have never seen them in numbers like this. 30-50 circling back and forth from the surface all the way down to 40 metres. The lens on the camera I was using was a wide-angle, so I had to be very close. The pictures show just how friendly and un-phased they were by close, human interaction.

As well as swimming around, they were also nestled in the crevices, co-habiting with the lobsters. With so much apparent space in the ocean, creatures down there do like to get close sometimes.

A giant black manta, as well as a chevron swam past on multiple occasions during the dives here. Another dive group encountered a pod of dolphins. Depending on the day (and your luck), it is possible to witness larger sharks, schools of hammerheads and even humpback whales.

TIP: Watch Shark Junction, a documentary about the wonder that is Roca Partida.

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Seldom afraid to come close and check you out

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Crevices are often full of white-tip reef sharks

As the sun was setting, the final dive of the day was spent among a big school of fish with a couple of silky sharks cruising in between our group of divers. Unphased by our presence, and curious from the camera lights, it was a privilege to get up close and personal, with one of the top predators of the ocean.

Punta Tosca

This sits just behind the furthest Western cape of Socorro Island. As we dropped in around 100 metres from the island, and slowly swam along a molten-rock finger extending from the island beneath the surface, we encountered some of the only soft coral during the whole trip. Whilst it was not comparable to the likes of Thailand or Indonesia, it was still pleasant to see some variation. Large long-tailed stingrays (Hypanus Longus) settled on the seabed, and within the natural holes in the rockface. We cruised up and down the fingers, and went to traverse across the bay, which close to the island reached around 14-15 metres, and continued getting deeper until it was out of sight. As we approached the end of the finger, a hammerhead shark appeared from the blue, scouting out our group. It diverted upon reaching us, and it was the last we saw of it.

Coming to the end of the dive, fortune favoured us as our team was able to spend nearly 30 minutes with 3 giant mantas. They were circling our group near and far whilst we completed our extended safety stop. Once again, these magnificent creatures proved why they are the highlight, as everyone marvelled how something so large can move so gracefully throughout the water. They also hung around for our succeeding dives.

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Mirroring the Manta

Due to the obligation to visit the Navy Base to check in and make our presence known (even at this late stage in the trip), we were only able to accomplish 3 dives on this day. Nevertheless, with these kinds of experiences, everyone exited the water with beaming smiles and teary eyes.

Being able to spend 30-40 minutes with these creatures, staring into their eyes, as they gaze into yours, it feels as though they look deep into your soul. That brief connection is a humbling moment, and one that never seems to get tiring.

Cabo Pearce

Jutting out from the East of Socorro Island, the biggest of the volcanic islands in the Revillagigedo archipelago, Cabo Pearce is the home of the friendliest mantas in the world. I can safely vouch that this claim is true. The current had started to pick up by the 5th diving day, and it was fantastic conditions when we jumped in the water. Perfect for kickstarting ourselves, and our maritime mates into action.

Due to its exposure to the open ocean, this place harbours some of the most fascinating and exciting activity of the four islands. Today was no different. Within moments, we were surrounded by 5-6 giant mantas looking for a space which to enter the cleaning station, where the notorious and hard-working Clarion Angelfish undertake the laborious job of cleaning the sharks, mantas and other pelagic creatures of the dead skin, scales, and parasites from their bodies. It’s swings and roundabouts though, as the Angelfish get a good feed, and the larger animals come away with much less chance of contracting a nasty bacterial infection. Think of it like going to the doctors for a checkup, or taking your car to the carwash, if you will. This is what makes the place such a reputable and reliable dive site.

As the mantas circled and the sharks weaved in and out, our dive group took shelter from the current behind a large rock, where we could still see the action, but had some respite from the relentless flow of water. At this moment, I was able to see something I had never witnessed. Whilst the mantas cruised past along with the silky and white-tipped sharks, a pod of dolphins swam directly passed, eyeing up our dive group. Mantas, dolphins, and sharks. All in the same frame. I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was surreal. Something I may not experience again, and certainly not one I’ll be forgetting soon.

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