After the ROV took up all the hours in the water for a few days, on Saturday the 23rd, we divers submerged again with the intention of documenting the “Secca del Capo” bottom. This is a seamount located at a considerable distance from the coast between the islands of Salina and Panarea.
The mound rises from hundreds of meters deep up to just 6 meters from the surface. This makes it (at least in theory) a suitable place for finding abundant fauna, especially large and pelagic fish.
A few minutes of diving were enough to convince me that this time, the theory was going to be blown out of the water by reality. Even at depths of over 30m, all I could see were damselfish, rainbow wrasse and swallow-tail sea perch. Not only were there no big fish, I was unable to find a single fish of commercial value during 60 minutes of diving. Not even one. What I did have to photograph for the umpteenth time was the depressing spectacle of nets, rope and fishing lines clinging to the rock here and there as if they were a grotesque reminder of the reasons that explain the absence of big fish.
During the ascent via the abrupt wall, I amused myself by photographing a male cardinal fish that, with evident effort, was incubating hundreds of eggs inside its half-open mouth. The state of maturation is so advanced that the eyes of the tiny larvae inside the eggs are visible through my camera lens. It is always a relief to see some life in the midst of a desert.
The next day, after the morning ROV immersion, it was the humans’ turn again. We dove just 50-odd meters from the Southern coast of Filicudi Island, and the water was once again as clear as it was the day before. It is late, and the sky is covered with clouds. However, the good visibility and the water’s absolute calm (it is the first calm day I have seen since I embarked at the end of July) make the prairie of phanerogams (Posidonia oceanica) we are descending upon look petrified.
We are at 20 meters and nothing is moving except for the clouds of small damselfish foraging for food in the water column without ever straying too far from the protective forest they have below. The scenery may seem somewhat monotonous, but that is amply compensated by the interesting variety of small animals that we find, especially in the sandy valleys that dot the luxuriant prairie. I see several pairs of painted combers that seem to play by chasing one another through the Posidonia oceanica rhizomes (perhaps courtship) and the sand is full of sea cucumbers. We also found small cuttlefish, a pair of wide-eyed flounders (a flatfish not very common in the Mediterranean Sea) and a few tube-dwelling anemones. However, what surprises me the most is the number of pen shells there are as well as the size that some of them reach. A comforting sight if we realize that this bivalve mollusk, known to reach a length of one meter, was caught on a mass scale in the past. The ones we have seen on this dive are still far from reaching that size, but they have to start somewhere.
We have been spending over 100 minutes enjoying our dive through a large garden made up of marine plants, and I haven’t seen a single net or rope on our route. It is sad that this is a novel occurrence when it should be the norm…but at least I’m happy to be able to give good news once in awhile.