14 Aug 2009

Benidorm Island - Under!

Welcome back to Benidorm Island!

So, the outing you joined me on yesterday (birding) was pretty intensive... what with the sun beating down, heat and stink in the caves, scrambling up and down the island on hands and knees... whew! I'm tired and sweaty just thinking about it! :p

Time for something a bit more refreshing, don't you think? ;o)

Let's see what's UNDER the island! Two weeks ago my sister and I hopped on a boat in Villajoyosa (yes, with a dive club, AliSub if you're ever in the neighbourhood, great club!) and jumped into the water at the southern point of Benidorm Island known as Punta Garbí (N.B.: all these underwater pics were taken by my sister Gabby -except for a couple I took but I don't remember exactly which ones- she also did all the editing in photoshop. If some look a bit fuzzy around the edges that's because some humidity in the casing caused the lens to fog up a bit due to the temperature difference. There was also a flash problem as she lost her flash diffuser a while back and apparently hasn't found anyplace to sell her just that little piece of plastic!)

Let's start by looking down in here:

a moray eel! O.k., I know, it's just a tail, but trust me on this one! I wouldn't put such a oops! shot in here, except that was the only moray we saw and since they're (usually) such a frequent visitor in Benidorm dives I couldn't illustrate this without one! :p

Ahhh, this fellah isn't too afraid to show himself! And not much later we saw 2 more of his cousins...

Methinks this is red coral... (but not sure) or a cousin.

Used to be abundant in the Mediterranean, but as it's been exploited since the Romans well.... not much is left!

This will give you an idea of the route we followed on this (50') dive:

We dove straight down to the seabed from the boat (~20m) and spent about 20' exploring down there among the algae and boulders, looking for octopi, morays etc.

Then we got closer to the wall (that goes on up to the platform around the island where people go snorkling)

and spent quite a bit of time examing little sections here and there, admiring starfish,


sponges, little fish nibbling on algae... you name it! No scorpionfish (Scorpaena scrofus) unfortunately this time (a Mediterranean delicacy, key ingredient to boullabaisse).

My! I love looking up at the surface:

Sometimes you can see the silhouette of a barracuda among the schooling fish, not this time, This was just a big school of one of the most abundant fish in the region:

the damselfish Chromis chromis (in Spanish = Castañuela, in French Castagnole). Want to know a little secret about this fellah? He changes colours!!! Well, at least from chocolate brown to chestnut brown, when scared or caught in a fishing net (not recommended, not good for food!). It's a defense mechanism. Say you're part of a damselfish school, and the guy next to you switches colour... you do quickly the same to pass along the danger message to the rest of of the school (think domino effect) and then everyone drops to the seabed to hide among the algae .

Here he is again in a little hollow among the rocks:

and he found some friends! Those red fish with the big eyes are Apogon imberbis, you'll only ever see them hiding in "grottos" like that. More coral on the bottom there. And if you look at the right hand side, in the middle you'll see a red tunicate. It's a barrel-shaped invertebrate with two tube-like siphons on its end to filter water.

Further along the wall we were lucky enough to catch a shot of this polychaete, a tube worm:

If you have good eyes you can spot quite a few of them while diving (but smaller). Only thing is they're very shy so if they sense a difference in the current (like you swimming next to them) they'll "swoosh" back into they're tube and the diver behind you will only see and empty tube sticking out.

I believe this guy is a Sargo, or white seabream (Diplodus sargus). One of the medium-to-large fish you see quite frequently around here.

And here's another anemone! I can't remember if it was truly black or if the colour is just the result of our flash problems.

Did you notice the empty polychaete tube in the upper left-hand corner? ;o)

Hmmm... our air supply seems to be nearing the reserve point! Time to go up a bit more, closer to the sunlight and play around on the platform a bit...

So up along this wall we go...

...stopping to admire the sea urchins

When we reach one part of the platform (about 7-10m) we're greeted by schools of salpas (Sarpa salpa), a fish we're more used to seeing around the seagrass beds since they're basically little underwater cows who spend their time munching on those plants! :p

Hmmm... my sister thinks this is a good spot to stop for a drink...

Oh my! That beer must have been "heavy" and gone to her head!

(no, I didn't turn the photo up-side down!)

Look at us, we're goofy (regular crazyness, not narcosis! lol!)!

Ok, time to head up further into the light.

Aha! A male wrasse (Spanish = doncella, French = girelle, Coris julis):

How can I tell it's a male (you usually can't with fish unless you dissect them)? Well in this photo below there are 2 females (ignore the green guy for now), can you see the difference?

Want another fishy story? Wrasses live in harems, and are hermaphrodites! If that male dies, one of "his" females will go hide in the sand for a few days, and when she comes out, SHE will be a HE! :p Who says sex-changes aren't Natural? (although to be honest these guys were born with both sets of equipment, the dominance of one over the other is all hormonal, they almost all start out at sexual maturity as females, and not all of them will get the chance to become males.)

Ok, remember that green guy above I told you to ignore? Well you can stop ignoring him now! He's a rainbow wrasse (fredi or doncella in Spanish, girelle paon in French; Thalassoma pavo). And he's a sign of global warming! Here's a female:

Global warming I said? Well these colourful guys are much more typical of the warmer waters along the north African Mediterreanean coast... and they've been slowly making their way north and starting to breed along Spanish and Italian coasts. Now fish are rather picky when it comes to temperature... so if they feel comfortable enough to breed around here it's because it's gotten warm enough.

Problem is... they've kind of been kicking out the regular wrasses (they share the same habitat) so we've been seeing some ecological shifts... Oh well, nothing much we can do to stop underwater "invaders" but at least they're pretty, right? :p

Hmmm... you know one thing I like about being in shallower waters? There's less absorption in the light spectrum and you can see my flaming red hair! lol!

So, you had enough with those pictures? Or would you like to add in some movement and sound? Ok, ok... here you go!

This first one starts with a school of damselfish and a lone white seabream, then finished peering at an anemone in the rocks, surrounded by baby damselfish (little bright blue fishies).

And I'll say goodbye with this one, in which I wanted my sister to catch a shot of that elusive male rainbow wrasse (the green guy)!

Hope you enjoyed the visit and are feeling refreshed! I must say though, this isn't the nicest place on the island to dive. Los Arcos or La Llosa are MUCH better! But dive sites are often chosen based on the weather conditions... and it was a bit choppy out there (in fact they cancelled their afternoon dives) and it was deemed safer as close to the island as possible.

For those interested in dive specs, we went down to 21m max, spent a total of 50' in the water (yay!) just hitting the reserve of our 12l air tanks; were wearing 5mm wetsuits, seawater temperature was 27ºC at the surface, dropped to 24ºC around 17m. Visibility was ok, but you could tell the waters were a bit churned up as there was quite a bit of particulate matter floating around (visibility is much better here in winter).


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  2. Your photos are awesome! I am totally intrigued by the underwater world. A couple of summers ago I attempted to get certified in Utila, Honduras but it didn't work out so well. The instructor hadn added extra weights to my belt because I kept floating up when we were on our knees practicing breathing in the surf. When we went to do our first dive (that same day, Day 1 of the course), I started sinking like a rock, freaked out and wound up inflating my vest and swimming to the top in a fit of hysteria.

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by my blog. I think you and I may have a lot in common--at least our love for travel and adventure! I am not Spanish or Latin American but I am fluent in Spanish and definitely feel a strong tie to Latin American culture. I took a semester in Costa Rica during undergrad, volunteered in Guatemala and did a good bit of traveling in Central and South America. My five year plan involves moving back to Central America...I haven't decided which country, but I still have time to sort out the details!

  3. Welcome to my crazy neck of the blogosphere MJ! Yeah, I read your post... that's how I figured we probably had some things in common! lol!

    Ouch, a dive course gone bad?! I hate that!!! Diving is so tricky a bad first impression can leave a person scarred and fearful of trying it again! Your instructor should have had you use less weights for the dive... buoyancy is only a problem when you're diving near the surface (you don't want to pop up like a cork!), at deeper depths it's much easier to control things! I actually had a bit of a weight problem on my last dive a week ago... we did a double dive (from the same boat), one down to 25m and the other around 7... well I should have thought to add more weight for the second dive because I kept having to hold on to rocks to keep the swell from making me surface! I hate shallow dives... (I also sometimes get seasick in them)

  4. OH WOW!!! I am so jealous! I love the tube worms - they are so cool, especially on night dives. Damsel fish on the other hand, can be nasty little buggers. I have been personally attacked on a few occasions by these little fellas.

    I love the photo of you with your red hair. If it was for the mask, you would think it was me - LOL!

    Great idea for a post though. I have to see if I can borrow some of my husband's underwater photo and do a similar one.

    Thanks again for taking me on a dive - greatly appreciate your hospitality.

  5. dang, I haven't done a night dive in YEARS!!! my favourite memories of those are playing with cuttlefish! :o)

    ooh yes! please put up some of your dive pics too!

    glad you enjoyed the dive! ;o)

  6. Thank you for this adventure.

  7. Yesterday the birds, today the fish — I've just had a lovely visit. The dive was so refreshing after another hot day.

  8. You take us to the wonderful world so different from our day today world! All the information and all the pics are sooo very good!! I like both your adventures On Benidorm Island!
    BTW I did not find the difference between male and female wrasse. You need expert's eye for that I guess!

  9. I'm glad everyone's refreshed!

    Pra, the male wrasses are very colourful whereas the females are just beige and brown!


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