Coco Island: the coral museum
Author: Laura Vanopdenbosch
Last April 2021, two members of the Innoceana team had the opportunity to go for one month on Cocos Island as researchers to start a 3D project modeling the coral reef. Cocos Island is Costa Rica's largest marine protected area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a Mission Blue Hope Spot. It is home to more than 1,600 marine species, has one of the highest concentrations of sharks globally, and one of the most diverse reefs in the country. For all those reasons, it is one of the most pristine sites for scuba diving worldwide.
Innoceana was invited to stay for one month on the island with the rangers to start their project called The Crystal Floor. It aims to study the health of the coral reefs, raise awareness of the importance of corals, and implement effective conservation strategies.
It has been an incredible privilege for us, as the terrestrial part of the island and many underwater sites are only accessible to rangers, volunteers and researchers. In one month on the island and 32 dives, we encountered thousands of hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, Silkies sharks, Black and Whitetip sharks, one Tiger shark, one turtle rescued from fishing lines, hundreds of fish species, many sexy shrimps, and much more
One month on Cocos Island was also 26 hours of underwater mapping, 3200 m2 of underwater 3D maps created, and more than 100,000 underwater pictures. Indeed, to create 3D underwater maps, Innoceana uses a photogrammetry technique: assembling many images taken from various angles to recreate a virtual 3D model of the reef.
With those underwater maps, Innoceana can evaluate the reef's health and provides a visual baseline of the reef and use it for comparison over the years and for education. The technical committee has successfully approved the protocol created by Innoceana of the National Park of Cocos Island and will be added to the governmental monitoring protocol. Every six months, Innoceana will return to the rangers on this paradisiac island to add the visual 3D maps to the classic underwater monitoring system.
An aerial drone has also been used to create aerial 2D maps of the island and estimate total coral coverage, which will be extremely useful for comparing with future aerial studies and proving the increase or decrease of the coral reef. Coral reefs are unfortunately significantly threatened all around the world and could completely disappear by 2050.
Innoceana believes that education on their importance is essential: with visual tools like the 3D models of corals, we can educate on the crucial role of corals for coast protection, survival of marine invertebrates and most fish, economic value and source of food, etc.
If you want to learn more about our trip on Cocos Island, follow our series of 17 video diaries on our Youtube channel: One new diary every Sunday! You can also watch our latest online webinar for more information on The Crystal Floor project or 3D models, or the coral reef in Cocos Island.
Congratulations to Costa Rica on its Bicentennial of Independence! From its foundation in 1821, a guideline for conduct determined that Costa Rica “recognizes and respects civil liberties, property, and other legitimate national rights of every person and any state or nation.” The country
has proven that it can live in peace, freely and democratically, even with limited economic resources and facing significant challenges while respecting the environment.
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