A QUESTION DIVERS ARE OFTEN ASKED by their non-diving friends is how deep have you been Deep diving makes for good headlines, and with trimix and proper training readily available in many dive centres these days, getting down to 50-60m has never been easier.
But while deep diving has a lot of interesting prospects to offer, lets not forget about the shallower parts of the underwater world. The shallow zone offers more than just a path to the depths, and is worth more than a few minutes of your deco stops.
When we go to the tropics to dive, we learn that corals need the sunlight to survive, and that the most vibrant
life lies between the water surface and around 30m.
The same can be applied to all other waters, even the green ones such as those found in northern Europe.
The main difference is that here the sun cant penetrate as deep, because there are far more particles and nutrients in the water.
This means that most of the plants and fish thrive in the 5-10m range - a perfect place to be on a dive. For divers who carry a camera, its the place with the best available lighting, requiring the minimum of air consumption and allowing long, long dive times, even without nitrox.
Its well worth exploring these areas, rather than confining their use to trying out new gear.

A GOOD PLACE TO START is beneath a pier. Usually its legs create narrow paths that force the water to squeeze between them, creating a perfect habitat for filter-feeding organisms such as the small plumose anemone (Metridium senile), dead mans finger (Alcyonium digitatum), different kinds of barnacles and a lot of mussels.
There is also a good chance to see the breadcrumb sponge (Halichondria panicea) coating rocks in yellow, and making them look almost like coral.
The piers numerous nooks and crannies make it an ideal hiding and hunting ground for many fishes.
Because the area is sealed from above, it becomes a haven for fish, especially the very young ones. Crabs, too, enjoy hiding within the concrete and steel structure.
If you swim out from the pier and head towards the seabed, youll find a lot of different aquatic life, depending on the type of bottom. In my experience, gravel and sandy bottoms host the most diverse life.
Muddy beds generally attract flatfish, different types of gobies and other bottom-dwellers. Here, theres a good chance that youll see the strange-looking armed bullhead (Agonus cataphractus), which hunts for food
by feeling in the mud with its beard.
The mud is a good hunting place for different crabs - from the small hermit to the giant spider crab, which finds plenty of food here. Starfish add colour.
On muddy bottoms, its naturally important to be careful when you move around to avoid stirring the mud and getting yourself into zero visibility.
Its particularly challenging when there are more than two of you exploring such environments. If this is the case, its a good idea to split up and dive different parts of the seabed.
On rocky bottoms youre likely to find different kinds of wrasse and other free-swimming fish. Gobies are bottom-dwellers and some, like the black gobies (Gobius niger), also enjoy rocky terrain, and are seen hiding between boulders.
Rocks and cracks are perfect habitats for crabs, but these tend to be the bigger species such as the edible crab (Cancer pagurus) and giant spider crab.
However, if you look carefully, you might be able to spot smaller species such as the colourful squat lobster (Galathea stringosa), which also prefers a home made of stone. The squat lobster is more easily spotted by night, when it can be surprised on top of the rocks.

ON SAND OR GRAVEL we find a mix of bottom-feeders such as gobies and flatfish, but also a lot of free-swimmers - wrasse, juvenile cod (Gadus morhua) and juvenile pollack (Pollachius pollachius). There tends to be more vegetation on these types of bottoms, most commonly eelgrass, though sea lace and kelp also thrive here.
Eelgrass is a good hiding place for different kinds of pipefish, but a lot of other fish, large and small, use it for hunting and also as a hideout.
On the eelgrass itself, snails and flatworms can usually be found crawling around, and different types of anemones live on the leaves.
If you put your hand on the sand, you will soon be surrounded by a lot of new friends, most commonly the sand goby (Pomatoschistus minutus).
This little chap will wait for you to stir up some goodies from the bottom. As soon as it sees something, it will dart out to get it, then quickly get back in line and wait for the next morsel.
If you lie still and carefully drag a finger in the sand, the sand goby will slowly get closer and closer. The black goby is not as bold as the sand goby, but it will hang around to see if there are some bigger bits of food going begging.
The different kinds of wrasse that live in the eelgrass rarely stay still. They rush around, forward and back, eating anything in their way, from plants to small creatures. I once saw a goldsinny wrasse (Ctenolabrus rupestris) with a tiny crab in its mouth.
Wrasse like warmth, and some species can be found very shallow from spring and throughout the summer. At this time of year they start their mating and make their nest here, and they will protect it for dear life from other fish.
All sorts of crabs live in these shallow waters, including the common harbour crab and shore crab. You can also find the funny-looking great spider crab in the eelgrass, and the edible crab at night.
Flatfish use the shallow waters as a hunting ground. In summertime, they find a lot of juvenile fish here. They can sometimes be found in no more than 30cm of water.
When the sun sets, all the wrasse and daytime fish find themselves a hiding place, and the night-active fish start their shift. The beautiful viviparous blenny (Zoarces viviparus) can be found on shallow bottoms all year around. If you want to get close to it, carry a torch thats not too strong, or cover your powerful HID light with your hand.
This blenny doesnt like strong lights and will turn its tail towards the source, but if you have a softer light it will stay put, allowing you to have a closer look.
Just beware, these fish mate all year round, so if it has a big belly, its most likely a pregnant female. Be sure not to stress it - leave it in peace.

THE SHORTHORN SCULPIN (Myoxocephalus scorpius) is another fish that gets out at night to hunt.
It changes colour to match the seabed, so is found in many colour variations.
An ambush hunter, the sculpin lies still on a rock and waits for its prey to get close before bursting out in
a powerful assault, and then retreating to its observation post.
If you want to take underwater photos, there is no better place than in shallow waters. You can stay in one spot and concentrate on the camera; the water is nice and warm, your air will last for at least an hour and there will be plenty of subjects in front of the lens.
Digital cameras, which allow us to shoot unlimited frames, were made for this sort of photography. Just be careful not to stress out fish that are busy with mating work such as nest-building and protecting their territory - move a couple of metres away to let them get on with their work.
Although its possible to dive the shallow parts of our seas all year round, the best time is from spring, around April, to autumn in mid-November. Depending on the winter, you might be able to start earlier or end later.
In the wintertime the gobies are the ones that stay around, as well as the small coda pollack, which tend to hang around late in the year. Short-horned sculpins are also present year-round and have their mating season in winter.
I would like to see other divers find their own hidden places, or to see familiar dive sites with a fresh eye. Its easy to be home-blind, and do the same things over and over again at the same places. And newer divers should not `feel obliged to go ever-deeper.
It was only when I got my first camera that I finally slowed down, started looking properly and was able to spot all the smaller creatures that had been hiding, not just the free-swimming ones in front of me. Why not take a close look at the shallows this season You might find a golden spot of your own.