I’m five days into this expedition to Cocos Island, and I’m being forced to take a rest day.  I’ve been freediving two or three times a day, for hours at time, and using the kayak to try new locations every day.  I enjoy being the guy that can be counted on to get shots when budgets are tight, and the living conditions are less than comfortable, (although Cocos Island has stepped up it’s game in that department) but my frustrations come up when I visit the dive boat where the dive tourists are going for 3-4 dives a day, and have powerboats zipping them from dive site to dive site.  They have experienced daily what I’ve been searching for, and I keep saying to myself, ‘if only I had been there!’  I am quite happy with the photos that I have taken, and I think in the long run I much prefer the reality of being stationed here on the Island, where few people have had the opportunity to actually spend time.  Most see the island as they pass by on a boat, or occasionally step foot on it for a few hours to hike to one of the many beautiful waterfalls.  It begs the question, what is more fun? Visiting places like this with the comforts of air conditioners and powerboats, or the intimate experience one can only get from sleeping under hot mosquito nets and sitting inches above water that is hundreds of feet deep in a kayak.

I think for now I’ll take the Kayak, I just wish I had a kayak that could carry dive tanks and move faster than the incoming storms. As a child, I had my older brother Jesse to set an example for me.  He showed me what happens when you have no fear.  I think this is one of the things that led me to be known to my parents as “Mr. Careful and Cautious.” You see, it wasn’t that I wouldn’t do the things he’d do, it was just that I was more prepared when I did finally end up doing it.  Besides, who would want to ride a sled off the roof after seeing what happened to Jesse?   So, my point.  I can’t say it’s not scary sitting alone in a kayak, with wind and rain pushing against me as I paddle the half mile to shore with unseen predators like tiger sharks swarming the area.  Not three days past, a kayaker was sitting with their legs in the water in one of the places that I’ve been freediving and was startled back to reality when a 12 foot tiger shark investigated his leg with it’s snout.  I want the experience, but I don’t want to experience it.

I’ve found the fear gathers inside me the longer I stay out of the water, but the moment I get in the water, the fear dissipates.  I’ll spend hours diving in 100 feet of water, where it’s too deep to see the bottom.  On many of these dives, I’ll have to reach 40 feet before I can see the bottom, and at that point, the surface is often obscured by a murky upper layer.  Yesterday, I dove to 40 feet and was rewarded with a school of hammerhead sharks and a single large galapagos shark  both of which are extremely rare right now, yet they were to far into the blue to bother trying to take photos of them.

A volunteer on Cocos Island dives into the Coral from a kayak.

At the moment, I’m trying to join up with some of the more independent divers on the island to venture off to some sites that offer more for the freediver.  We’ll see what comes of it, but for now I have to keep my head down and keep working.  After todays rest, I plan on setting forth once again and exploring the blue world around me with renewed energy.  I hope the island rewards me with some incredible images to present at my lecture in New York on the 15th.  Only time will tell.


About Ben Horton
Highly influenced by his love of travel and adventure and his constant search for something new, his imagery is vibrant with fresh and creative energy. Raised in Bermuda, Ben Horton has spent the majority of his life traveling and seeking out new adventure. Ben is the recipient of the National Geographic Society’s first Young Explorer award for research on Cocos Island involving shark poaching. This led to becoming a photographer for National Geographic, and has allowed Ben to continue his passion for adventure. Follow Ben on Instagram

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