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August 29, 2008

Last days in Italy



We don’t have many days left in Italy, because we plan to be back in the Balearic Islands at the end of the month, in Palma de Mallorca. So, we decide to continue working with the ROV, documenting the seamounts west of the Aeolian Islands, facing the northwest coast of Sicily and head slowly towards the Balearic coasts.

We begin exploring the Enareta seamount and later sail to some seamounts off the northeast side of Cape Sin Vito, northwest of Trapini, in Sicily. Apart from a few minor differences in the sites where we have been diving, the sea floors are predominantly steep slopes with depths between 250 and 350 meters.

These sea floors present, as a continuation of the volcanic archipelago formed by the Aeolian Islands, sandy and volcanic substrates on which rock formations sometimes appear that harbour a wide variety of organisms and colours, like an oasis in the desert. Within a few meters, we find sponges, gorgonians, corals, forkbeards and blackbelly rosefish.

During the first dive, we were surprised by large quantities of dead corals concentrated in small areas. Although we were discouraged by the lack of organisms in the muddy areas, we were happy to see a bluntnose sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus) approximately 3 meters long that appeared before our camera at 320 meters depth. During the next dives, groups of 10 to 15 longnose spurdog sharks (Squalus blainvillei) accompanied us during most of the transects, possibly attracted by the light. On the seamount closest to Cape San Vito, there were predominantly black corals of the (Leiopathes glaberrima) species both on the sea floor and hanging from the steep walls.

Unfortunately, we are finding large quantities of remnants of fishing gear, like lines and nets, abandoned on the seabed, because the areas we are exploring are often exploited by fishermen. This makes our work with the ROV difficult because we have to avoid this abandoned fishing gear and, sometimes, we even have to cancel the dive and look for another area in which to continue to document the deep sea floors.