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September 8, 2009

La Gomera. Tuesday, September 8, 2009

BY: Gorka Leclercq


©OCEANA/ Carlos Suárez


The sky is blue, there is a wonderful shining sun, newly fallen powdered snow, and the entire slope untrodden, all for me. I grip the poles and lunge downhill. I fall into the snow up to my knees and when I take my first turn, a thought goes through my head: Damn, what time must it be that I’m having such a good time?

I stand up suddenly, so quickly that I bump my head on the corner of a cabinet that is at the upper part of my bunk. What time is it?

I started my watch at six o’clock a.m., I grope for the clock, three fifteen…son of a gun…

How I envy Carlos Pérez who is capable of getting his six hours of sleep in the intervals he needs: two hours, one hour, half an hour, fifteen minutes… and he always seems fresh and raring to go. If I, on the other hand, wake up, I can’t get back to sleep even if you shoot me, so I do some pending video editing work, under an almost full moon, sheltered by the cliffs of Los Gigantes to the south of Tenerife. What happens is that in that special ambience, I become concentrated right away, and before I know it, it’s six o’clock a.m. It’s a matter of setting up a recording studio around here…

I go up on deck and I replace Carlos Suárez, the Oceana Ranger’s photographer during the next month. He was on the watch before me. We are anchored near the port of Los Gigantes where there was no place to dock, so we have found shelter among these spectacular cliffs that reach Punta de Teno in the South of this “chicharrera” island, Tenerife. When we are not in port, we have night watches to prevent any change in the wind or other contingencies that place the Ranger’s safety at risk.

Activity on board began at seven thirty, and after breakfast, we set sail for the island of La Gomera as there is a forecast of calm seas for the next few days, and we want to make the best of the good weather to do submersions on the one of the islands’ most exposed sides.

We steered our course to punta de la nariz (tip of the nose) (it’s no joke, that’s what the cape is called) to the SW of the island of Gomera, some 25 miles that we covered in four hours of pleasant sailing with hardly a wave. In the distance we spotted a whale… possible a Bryde´s whale that dove and left us wishing we had filmed it. The channel that separates the islands of Tenerife and La Gomera is one of the most important places in the islands for whale sighting, one of my passions. However, this time we had a different objective in sight, so it will have to wait for next time.

We reached punta de la nariz, and once there, it was time for the divers’ first dive. We did it at the point itself, on a rocky bottom that drops fro the surface to 35 meters with the first platform at 20 meters. I descended to the bottom and was able to observe the Ranger’s hull on the surface. Talk about visibility! At this depth (35 meters), and in spite of the fact that there is a small thermocline, the water temperature must be around 24º C.

I pulled away a bit from the rocks and dove along the sandy bottom amid a “field” of garden eels (Heteroconger longissimus) in case there were some animal life on this sandy bottom. I saw nothing appealing to me. I started my ascent, and I heard someone call me behind me. It’s my safety diver, Eduardo Sorensen, who let me know that in the blue ocean there was a school of about fifty tuna, probably sawfish (Sarda sarda). I can “steal a shot of them” even when they are far away.

We continued to ascend on a typical rocky Canarian bottom that is called “blanquizal” on the islands. These bottoms were formed due to the proliferation of lime urchins (Diadema antillarum). We are talking about a very voracious herbivore here that literally “razes” the algae cover on this type of bottom, leaving them completely “bare”. Overfishing of its main predators such as dentex (Pagrus auriga), sargo (Diplodus sp), barred hogfish (Bodianus scrofa) and porcupine fish (Chilomycterus atringa) has turned this species into a pest in practically the entire archipelago.

We finished the submersion near the surface and Carlos Suárez told me to look under a crack with a “sly” smile… I put the macro lens on my camera hoping to find a small prawn or sea slug, and surprise! I stumble upon a porcupine fish (Chilomycterus atringa) almost half a meter long snugly resting in the crack and looking uneasily at this new species of “fish” with lights that are rarely seen in these parts.

Once the submersion was over, we got back on board to steer our course toward a new ROV dive that will be performed near this point, but at a much greater depth.