|At last this is it, I can see a large overhang and an almost sheer wall disappearing sharply into deeper water. Quickly making my final camera checks, I glance over at my buddy Ken. Time is of the essence. The top of the wall is in 20m and we are planning to go deep down it in search of the huge anemones that favour dark over-hangs and crevices below 30m.
It has taken five minutes to cover the 300m of seemingly boring sandy bottom to get here, and we have to allow for another five minutes at the end of the dive. But its a brilliant feeling plunging over the edge and descending into the unknown. Our light and visibility are well down on the normal 30m, but the almost misty scene seems to add an air of mystery to our dive. A small group of barracuda watch us warily as we glide down the wall and I can see a huge yellow-fin tuna diving into the sand trying to rid itself of parasites over on a sandy ledge.
Suddenly, I notice Ken has turned towards me and is frantically pointing downwards and shouting at me through his regulator. A huge ray is cruising into the distance but I can just make out its beautiful markings and wider-than-normal wings that suggest its a butterfly ray, a species Ive never seen before.
Off the wall
Heading on down the wall, I practise panning my camera 90 through the water, trying to picture another ray, or perhaps even an angelshark, appearing out of the gloom and flying right towards us. Angelsharks are common here, especially in spring. Although the best chance of seeing them is half hidden in the sand, they are sometimes encountered swimming along the wall. They look like a cross between a huge ray and a shark, and are better known as monkfish by fishermen and chefs.
We were diving on an ancient submerged coastline, located some 300m off Puerto Del Carmen, the main tourist town on Lanzarote. I had never considered diving in Lanzarote before, but a friend had whetted my appetite with stories of angelsharks, rays and weird anemones. As its only a four-hour flight from Britain, I decided to take a look.
Lanzarote is not your average dive destination. It has 300 volcanoes one of which is still active. Solidified lava covers much of the island, and some areas resemble a lunar landscape they even test moon buggies here!
The barren landscape continues under water. There are no coral reefs and the best diving is found right opposite Puerto Del Carmen. This is where you have the best chance of finding some of Lanzarotes more colourful and diverse marine life.
As we drift down the wall, I begin to look for the weird anemones Ive heard so much about, but just for the moment my attention is caught by a black moray, Muraena augusti. It seems very friendly, as if it is waiting to be fed or stroked, and I can see right down its mouth past several rows of sharp-looking teeth.
Close by is a more colourful section of wall covered in orange and red encrusting sponges I take a look in the hope of seeing some nudibranchs. Instead, I come across some false corals and sea squirts. Then, as I move down a little further, right in front of me is an amazing club-tipped anemone (Telmatactis crioides). Its tentacles are a stunning pink and I can see why my friend nicknamed them globulars, after their globule-like tentacles.
Theyre a little like a dahlia anemone, but of dinner-plate proportions! And there are a lot of other creatures living in association with them, including arrow crabs (Stenorhynchus lanceolatus), humpback shrimps and red-backed cleaner shrimps (Lysmata gragham). The hump-back shrimps are actually moving in and out of the anemones tentacles. They seem to be living among them, just like clownfish possibly they have a similar relationship.
Later I checked in a local marine-life book and discovered that the anemone spider crab (Inachus phalangium), which normally lives in association with snakelocks anemones, is also sometimes found in club-tipped anemones. The latter is one of the few species of anemone capable of penetrating the skin of a human being with its stinging cells. Luckily I wasnt tempted to prod one!
Having found the anemones in around 35m, we decide to continue on round the next overhang, which takes us into still deeper water. Here we find some orange tree-coral growing under an overhang next to a cave and, as we get closer to it, a huge grouper shoots past us.
We reach 44m and slip into decompression time, so we head back up the wall and on to the sandy slope to off-gas. This time we take our time cruising and come across all sorts of marine life, from little flatfish and lesser weeverfish to a colony of garden eels and swimming crabs. I particularly enjoy seeing how close I can get to the almost invisible lizardfish before they take off!
Up in the shallows beside the rocky coastline and the pier (from where we started our dive), there are shoals of thin-lipped grey mullet and seabream, and, as we finish our safety stops, I watch a group of goatfish stirring up the sand in search of a meal. I have no complaints about the fishlife in Lanzarote there is always something going on.
On the rocks
In the afternoon we potter around the rocks in the bay opposite the Safari dive centre. It turns out to be a great place for fish watching. Huge blennies, similar to our tompot blennies, pop up all over the place, as do scorpionfish which, until disturbed, match their backgrounds magnificently. The blennies seem to be halfway between our shanny and tompot blenny they have no crest on top of their heads but are big and quite colourful. We also come across a lovely electric ray, an octopus, a cuttlefish and, at the edge of a little rocky outcrop, we find a fantastic golden-coloured seahorse (Hippocampus reidi).
One of the best dives in Lanzarote is the old harbour wrecks site. There are five wrecks in all and they lie in the mouth of the old harbour, so the only way of safely diving on them is by boat. Four of the wrecks are of a mainly wooden construction and lie broken up on top of each other in around 40m, but the fifth wreck is made of steel and sits completely intact on the bottom. It rests at an angle with its mast and bow in quite shallow water and its propeller and stern in 20m. The wreck is covered in green algae that hangs like cobwebs from the masts and other superstructure. It is an enjoyable dive, not only for the wreck itself but for the variety of fishlife around it.
As with other sites, there is an odd mixture of cold- and warm-water species, like trumpetfish swimming along beside a shoal of mullet and bream! There isnt any penetration diving on the wreck probably because theres nothing to see. So after circumnavigating it, we head off and explore the surrounding rocky bottom. It is encrusted in pink algae and offers a nice contrast to the wreck, which is resting on a sandy bottom. Here we come across a moray eel under a ledge and an octopus out hunting in the open.
My last dive in Lanzarote is at Mala. Its a dive that will remain in my memory for some time not because of the creatures we encounter under water, but because of the unusual view that greets us as we arrive at the dive site, and then later as we exit the water (see picture above right).
The only way to reach the site is over a scenic rocky outcrop that just happens to be a favourite spot for German naturists. We feel decidedly overdressed as we weave our way between the sunbathers and jump into the water. Its a case of carry on regardless.
Mala is a scenic dive, with dark volcanic walls, caves and arches bordering shimmering white sand. Spiny urchins crawl over much of the fairly lifeless rock, but we do see a moray, some curious wrasse and an eagle ray. However, my lasting memory of Mala is Kens face and the stream of bubbles pouring from his regulator as he climbs up the ladder at the end of the dive: as Kenneth Williams used to say: Ooh, what a naughty boy!
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