When Scuba Coiba opened in 2003, it has been the first land based dive center offering access to Coiba National Park in Panama. Before, it was very difficult to dive here. It either was the expensive option, going on a live-a-board or the logistical nightmare, renting boats in Puerto Mutis and carrying all equipment and tanks with one on 3 to 4 hour trip one way.
Another barrier was, that the prison in Coiba was still operating and the police had to approve of the activities. But in 2003 it was already decided, that the prison will be closed in 2004.
As I settled down in Santa Catalina, I was one of only a handful “Gringos” and have been watched with curiosity, as nobody has thought about scuba diving as an activity for Santa Catalina and many locals thought I am crazy, as the only activity Santa Catalina was known for has been surfing. True, nobody knew about the possibility of diving and the few tourists passing by usually did not plan on diving and brought not enough money, to afford it. No credit cards have been accepted in Sta. Catalina till 2007 and only very few hard core divers undertook a day trip of travelling to Sona and back to get money out of theonly ATM within 112 kms.
Not much to do, as to wait for divers, I taught my assistant Luis to dive and certified him as Open Water Diver. Together we went to explore known fishing spots and to find new dive sites around Sta. Catalina. We took every chance to hop on a boat going to Coiba, to explore dive sites there.
Slowly the word of a new dive center in Sta. Catalina went around and I got more and more divers sent over to me from my friends in Bocas del Toro and the expat community of Panama City. In the beginning of 2004 dive trips were becoming a regular business a couple of times per week, so I thought of employing my first dive instructor and to get more time for me to do other things. I found her in Rachel Fulton, a hardworking and very nice young lady I met before in Bocas del Toro. She did an excellent job and formed a great team with Luis. Rachel discovered many new dive sites and she was a key person in the development of Scuba Coiba, staying with us till early 2007.
First team of Scuba Coiba: Rachel, Luis, Herbie
After getting a prominent review in Lonely Planet Panama end of 2004, business practically tripled in 2005 and we started to work with additional freelancing instructors or dive masters. Since 2007 we work with 2 full time instructors beside myself. Many of them stayed for years, so we did not have a lot of changing faces here. Also our team of local boat captains and helpers are working with us for a long time and this consistency of key personnel is a key part to our success and safety record.
Meet the team 2013