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July 29, 2007

Seco de los Olivos (day 3)

BY: Ricardo Aguilar


© OCEANA / Juan Cuetos


We continue diving in Almeria in the area of Seco de los Olivos. We have not seen any cetaceans in this area this year, quite the contrary to last year, and we have been here two days with calm seas and excellent visibility. In general, the sightings during the last month and a half can be counted with one hand. We’ve almost seen more swordfish jumping out of the water than dolphins. Each year the situation gets worse. And not many turtles, either.

We search for an unfamiliar area with the ROV. At the surface, we see there is a large concentration of ctenophores and various chains of giant salps (Salpa maxima). As we descend, the quantity of organisms in suspension worsens our visibility. When we reach the sea floor at approximately 120 meters depth, we find a detritic sandy bottom and some small rocks. There are gorgonians present on all of these, especially pink gorgonians (Eunicella verrucosa), although we have also spotted some specimens of Elisella paraplexauroides, tree corals (Dendrophyllia cornigera), red gorgonians (Paramuricea clavata) and whip gorgonians (Viminella flagellum). Many pink gorgonians have anemones (Amphianthus dohrni), wing shells (Pteria hirundo), ophiuroids (Ophiotrix fragilis) or basket stars (Astropartus mediterraneus).

All of a sudden, we must cancel the dive. A few meters away from us, we see a small buoy that leads us to suspect we are headed straight for fishing tackle on which we can get caught. Further away we see another buoy, and another, and another.

It’s a surface longline. In the distance, we see the longliner hauling in the tackle, but they are still far from our position. So we decide to haul up the robot and find a safer location.

We place ourselves further south and continue working. The sea floor is similar, but then we come across a sandy area full of sea pens. There are two types, with predominance of round or finger-shaped sea pens (Veretillun cynomorium) and red pens (Pennatula rubra). Less frequently, we find Virgularia mirabilis, Pennatula phosphorea, Pteroides griseum and Funiculina quadrangularis. This place does not cease to amaze us, it has everything.

In the afternoon, the waves are getting more and more annoying, the wind is picking up and we see white caps at a distance. To top it all off, there is a strong underwater current. We continue working as best we can, but finally decide to finish the work with the ROV for the day and take advantage of the time to try out another “gadget” we have onboard. It’s a type of underwater rigid hand glider on which you place a camera in order to quickly take samples of uncomplicated areas. It’s not as precise as the ROV and the quality is not as good, but it’s useful to get a general view of the types of sea floors in the area.

After various attempts, we get an idea of how to use it, but it’s getting late and we decide to return to port. Tomorrow and the day after we will be tied up at port because we have things to do on land, apart from cleaning chores that must be done onboard.