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July 16, 2007

Cabo de Palos – Islas Hormigas (day 2)

BY: Ricardo Aguilar


© OCEANA / Juan Cuetos


It looks better this morning, but swells are expected in Cabo de Palos after easterly winds (Levante) have been blowing these past few days. So we won’t risk it and we’ll take advantage of the day by concentrating our work in the area between Cabo Tiñoso and La Azohia. This coastal area is still magnificent thanks to its spectacular topography but, above all, because it has not yet been destroyed by property development like most of the Spanish coast. Actually, it’s strange to see the coastline without one building or crane nearby.

It’s almost dead calm, although a light breeze is blowing that will pick up during the afternoon. But, in general, winds are blowing at only 5-10 knots.

The divers have carried out two dives and we have worked with the ROV on another two to see the transition from superficial waters down to 100 meters depth.

The underwater coast plunges quickly down to 20-25 meters depth. The walls are richly covered with sponges and bryozoans. But we are also surprised to see how quickly invasive species have settled in this area. The red algae Asparagopsis spp. and Lophocladia lallemandi spread out at a very rapid rate. And the madreporarian coral Oculina patagonica also considered invasive, has already formed dense colonies throughout the area.

Fish are not abundant in this area, although we did come across some beautiful scenes, such as a Mediterranean moray eel (Muraena helena) and a brown eel (Gymnothorax unicolor) sharing cleaner shrimp (Lysmata seticaudata) like good cave neighbours.

Nudibranchs are also present here, such as Platydoris argo. and starfish are commonly found (Ophidiaster ophidianus, echinaster sepositus, etc.), substituted by comb sea stars (Astropecten sp.)in muddy areas.

The sea floor begins to change as we descend, becoming muddier as depth increases. The marks from trawling are clearly visible, forming deep trenches in the sea floor. Various mollusc species can be seen throughout the area, such as auger shells(Turritella comunis), pelican’s foot (Aporrhais pes-pelicani), or some Cerith snails (Cerithium sp.). The majority of the bivalves we find are remnants of cockles (Acanthocarida, Glycimeris sp., Cerastoderma sp.), scallops (Pecten sp. Chlamys sp.) and others. Some of the places where we sample are old maerl beds. And I say old because only a few rhodolites are still alive and the rest is just a mass of chopped algae due to the continuous trawling activities going on here for years.

Today, when we reach port, we’ll go out for dinner so the cook can take a rest and we can stretch our legs a bit. I don’t think we’ll be able to get out much the next few days. We trust we’ll have a few days of good weather so we can work intensely in the areas of Cabo de Palos and Islas Hormigas.