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July 22, 2011

Olives under the sea

BY: Pilar Marín





Today is my second day on the Ranger and it is my turn to write about my sensations and discoveries –I’m thrilled, of course. The morning starts with an almost completely calm sea and we start our trip southbound towards Seco de los Olivos (Chella Bank) from Almerimar. We intend to make at least two immersions in the secondary elevations that accompany that seamount.

When we arrive at the point chosen by Ricardo, the preparations and manoeuvres start, everything is perfectly calculated. I am anxious to learn what we are going to find today, and, as you shall see later on, I wasn’t mistaken as the day had several surprises in store for us. As soon as it touches the ground, the ROV starts navigating more than 500 metres deep and we are surprised by a group of scabbard fish that join us for a while. On our route we cross several dogfish and redfish, and suddenly a dead reef appears on top of which new young coral formations are starting to grow. During the immersion, we find a gorgonian forest of the Swiftia kind, a lobster (Palinurus elephas), some bunches of yellow tree coral (Dendrophyllia cornigera) and, in the end, an orangutan crab (Derilambrus angulifrons) accompanied by his female in an amorous attitude.

In the afternoon, we have changed positions and the immersion started at almost 300 metres below the sea level, where we are welcomed by a group of blue whitings (Micromesistius poutassou) over a muddy-sandy bottom where solitary corallites are common and where we see a reef of jack mackerel (Trachurus sp.). As we get close to the rock bottom everything changes and a field of Leiopathes and Antipathes black coral appear surrounded by groups of three tails (Anthias anthias). The first big surprise of the day has been offered by an angular rough-shark (Oxynotus centrina), a curious yet clumsy deep sea shark of a strange appearance. To finish the immersion, we are amazed by a set of impressive black corals the size of a tree which are probably over 500 years old. Then we wonder, are these the authentic “olive trees” of Seco? Are these the fragile corals that have provided the name for the underwater mountain?

Back at the port, we cross the route of a pair of bottlenose dolphins that seem to navigate with a clearly defined direction and say goodbye to us on an intense day over the stern of the Ranger.