The water in the Mediterranean gets too warm for good old British kelp to survive the summer, so the job of growing on the rocks is left to small leafy algae. The green clover-like algae that grows as a carpet over the rocks is Halimeda tuna. This is a calcerous algae that builds calcium carbonate into its structure from CO2 absorbed from the sea water.
Other algae that can be found almost everywhere are mermaids cup, a small green umbrella that grows in clumps, and peacocks tail, a squirled biscuit-coloured algae that looks a bit like wood shavings.
Pointy-bottomed pottery vases called amphorae are seen by divers all over but especially in the eastern Med. They have been used to store and transport liquids since ancient times. They fell out of widespread use when the Roman Empire fell.
Amphorae come in all sizes, from wine bottle to milk churn and larger, and in a range of shapes and designs. An archaeologist can tell where and when an amphora was made from its shape and how the handles are attached.
So why the pointed base Firstly, they were easier to make that way - amphorae were the mass produced bulk storage containers of the ancient world. Secondly, lay an amphora on one side and it cant roll away from you - just round in circles.
Finally, if you cant stand a container up, its less likely to fall over by mistake! This is also one reason why DIR divers dont put boots on their twin-sets.
Amphorae would be stacked leaning in rows, jammed together in the bottom of a ships hold, often several layers deep.
Ships have been sinking in the Mediterranean for thousands of years. Conditions for freediving without even a mask or fins are almost perfect, especially in summer.
Its hardly a surprise that salvage of shallower shipwrecks has been practised almost as long as ships have been sinking - maybe a day less. Even wrecks beyond breath-hold diving could be salvaged to some extent with grapnels.
Then along comes early diving gear and more valuables from the ancient wrecks could be salvaged. Then scuba was invented and salvage became even easier.
Many ancient wrecks in the Med are protected archaeological sites, but some are open to supervised diving and others are unprotected. Even so, if you find yourself diving an ancient wreck, it is not a good idea to pick up a souvenir, no matter how inconsequential it may look. Ignoring the disturbance of what could be important evidence from an archaeologists point of view, local authorities will act swiftly and mercilessly if they find out.
Wood exposed to salt water usually lasts only a few decades unless it has been buried in silt, so the remains most likely to be seen by divers are ballast stones and broken amphorae from the cargo. Often seabed distribution of cargo and trinkets gives archaeologists the only clues to design of the ship and its origin.
Small orange goldfish often seen in clouds on wrecks and reefs. These ones are in the Strait of Gibraltar
Ancient wrecks are an obvious subject for marine archaeology, but it doesnt stop there. Changes in sea level arising from land subsidence and earthquakes have left sunken harbours, towns and temples.
Survey of an archaeological site begins with the setting of datum points; markers which are precisely surveyed and positioned with respect to the world outside the site. All subsequent survey of the site is then made relative to these points.
Search and survey techniques depend on the nature of the site. Sometimes a grid is laid, and sometimes direct triangulation used. It used to be done with tape measures, but now measurements can be made faster and more accurately with electronic instruments.
A good first point of contact for becoming involved in a Mediterranean archaeological project is Britains Nautical Archaeology Society. You could also try contacting your local university. Classics and archaeology departments may have fieldwork that could use additional helpers. In either case, expect to pay your own way.
There are many more archaeological enthusiasts looking for work experience than there are opportunities, so volunteers do nearly all the work.
This city on the Nile delta was a major trading port and centre of commerce in the ancient world. From the 4th to the 14th century, a series of earthquakes tumbled major buildings and even sank parts of the city beneath the sea. After that, Alexandria went into decline, rising again from a fishing village only in the 19th century to become Egypts second largest city.
UK tour operator Regaldive briefly offered a tour to dive the archaeological site, including the remains of the great lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. However, the product was dropped due to questionable qualifications and safety practices of the local dive operator. Current reports are that significant artefacts have been recovered by archaeologists and are on display in the new Alexandria museum. Save for very specialised interest, there isnt enough under water to make it worth more than a couple of dives.
If you still want to dive the sunken ruins, the best advice is to approach the archaeological faculty of Alexandria university.
A few years ago, there was a segment on TV news about an EU subsidy for decommissioning fishing boats. A wooden boat was hauled out of the water and smashed to bits with a JCB. It was distressing to watch. Why couldnt they just take out the engine and fuel tanks and sink the rest for me to dive on
This opportunity hasnt been lost on the Spanish. Along much of the Spanish coastline, divers and anglers now enjoy artificial reefs made of decommissioned fishing boats (as at Aguilas, right).
Those with wooden hulls may not last long, but as they deteriorate new boats are added to the wreck sites, and both fish life and diving are thriving.
In Malta they have been going for it in a bigger way. Artificial reefs include steel tugboats, a ferry off Gozo and the much larger Um-el-Faroud, an ex-Libyan tanker sunk in 1998.
Medium-sized silvery fish often encountered on Mediterranean reefs and wrecks, and usually found in shoals, are most likely some kind of seabream. Bream are characterised by a single slightly spiky dorsal fin that runs from above the head most of the way to the tail, small pectoral fins just below midway down their sides, a small pair of pelvic fins below the pectoral fins and an anal fin.
Gilthead bream have a yellow-gold top and a single dark band before the tail, though if the yellow is very faint it could also be a saddled bream. If it has horizontal blue and yellow stripes, it is a salema.
Two-banded bream (right, on the Rozi wreck in Malta) have black bands by the gills and before the tail. Zebra bream have more bands in-between, though if these bands are very faint and dont go all the way down it could be a white bream.
A red tinge and a black spot above the gills Its a red bream.
This sister ship to the Titanic never saw passenger service, entering military service as a hospital ship when launched in 1914. Like the Titanic, the Britannic was supposed to be unsinkable. Following the Titanic disaster, the bulkheads were redesigned to ensure that such an accident couldnt be repeated.
Nevertheless, in the Mediterranean heat, watertight doors and portholes were conveniently left open to improve ventilation.
In November 1916, heading for Salonica to pick up wounded from the Gallipoli campaign, Britannic struck a mine laid by U73 and sank in the Kea Channel off Athens.
The wreck now lies in 120m, rising to 90m. Britannic was first dived by Jacques Cousteau in 1970, then became better known when Kevin Gurr led an expedition in 1997.
Since then, expeditions to the Britannic have become an almost annual event, the most recent proving conclusively that the vessel struck a mine and sank as fast as she did because watertight doors in the firemans tunnel had been left open.
With the EU has come the liberalisation of air routes in Europe and many budget airlines. Flights to popular Mediterranean destinations can be had for just a few tens of pounds each way, though usually with small print saying things like plus taxes and administration fees and very restrictive baggage allowances.
Even so, by the time tickets, taxes, excess baggage and all the other little surcharges have been added up, this can still yield some pretty good deals, especially if the flight departs from a convenient regional airport.
More interestingly, on some routes the budget airlines have coerced main carriers to compete on price. So you may be able to get the service and reliability of a main carrier from Heathrow or Gatwick to your Meddestination without paying that much more for the fare than the budget airline would have charged.
Napoleon was born on Corsica in 1769. His parents were Italian, and he was only just French because France had bought Corsica from the Italian city state of Genoa just the previous year.
Corsica is well visited by French and European divers, but less well-known to UK divers. The top dive site is the Lavezzi marine reserve, located to the Corsican side of the channel that separates Corsica from Sardinia.
Big rounded and fractured granite humps rise to 15m from a general depth of 30m. Large grouper (left) are used to divers, and having been fed occasionally will come close on the chance of a handout.
Other highlights to look out for towards the north of the island are the wrecks of two P47 fighters lying together at 17m, a Vickers Viking at 13m and a B17 bomber at 28m.
Part of Greece, Crete is the largest of the Aegean islands, more than 155 miles long without allowing for all the extra miles of wiggly little roads.
Diving around Crete used to be severely restricted by the governments desire to stop anyone messing about with archaeological sites, but the sport is now recognised as a significant tourist attraction and there are dive centres all along the north coast. Considering all the WW2 activity on and around Crete, however, metal wrecks are conspicuous by their absence from dive centres itineraries. There is only an upside-down Messerschmitt 109 fighter in 24m.
Other sites include scatterings of wartime debris. A more modern wreck is a 30-year-old sailing yacht to the east , upright in 25m. At the other end of the scale, debris from ancient wrecks includes broken amphorae, anchors and ballast stones. Crete also has a good selection of caves and drop-offs.
Inheriting most of the coastline of the former Yugoslavia, Croatia has the original Dalmatian coastline with a maze of long thin islands running parallel to the shore where ancient valleys have flooded.
A return to peace and a tourist economy after the civil wars that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia have led to a booming property market. A few years ago, buying a run-down Croatian farmhouse and renovating it represented one of the best possibilities for property gains to be made in Europe.
Everything from wine to property is pretty cheap, though acting against this is an infrastructure nowhere near as organised and reliable as in more established Mediterranean locations.
A must dive is the S57, a German torpedo boat from World War Two. It was part of the escort force for a German coastal convoy bringing supplies to Dubrovnik, ambushed by allied torpedo boats. A steel frame with plywood hull has now rotted to leave the skeleton of the S-boat and its machinery covered in orange and purple encrusting sponges (anti-aircraft gun, above). The bow is at 20m, the props at 35m.
The closest dive centre is in Zuljana, with the wreck about 30 minutes boat ride to the south.
Croatia also has plenty to offer those in search of marine life, like this octopus in a razor shell (left).
With the famous wreck of the Zenobia so accessible from Larnaca, it would be easy to forget the rest of Cyprus diving, but it does exist. After the Zenobia (see separate entry), the next largest wreck in the southern, Greek part of Cyprus is HMS Cricket, a World War One river gunboat that lies upside-down in 30m. Then at Limassol is the wreck of the Pharses II, a small freighter that sank in 1980.
Other dive sites are mostly shallower than 25m, with a selection of caves, reefs and ancient wreck sites marked by amphorae. As in most Mediterranean places there is a local passion for fishing, and in particular spearfishing, which unfortunately takes the fish most likely to be encountered at dive sites.
With quite a few dive sites only a short boat ride from harbour, some dive centres specialise in early-morning dives, making it possible to get out for a quick dive and be back before the family even realises you have been away.
At first glance, the wrecks of British and French battleships in the Dardanelles, sunk while supporting the ill-conceived Gallipoli campaign, seem to offer a good location to go diving. But dont waste your time or money.
In 1999 tour operator Crusader Travel organised a liveaboard to dive the area and the experiment was a disaster. Crusader immediately dropped the product and informs us that the situation has not changed.
A mixture of poor and unsafe diving conditions, wrecks that have been extensively salvaged and local politics make the prospect of a holiday to dive this part of World War One history an unattractive one. If you are in the area, do the land tour but then head elsewhere for more worthwhile, safer and enjoyable diving.
These can range from small wooden fishing boats, through grp hardboats that wouldnt look out of place in the UK, to even larger traditional hulls. Most popular are 6-8m RIBs (left, in Minorca) with excessively big outboards. Its a macho thing.
In most areas, standard safety items such as first-aid kits, oxygen and radios (or at least a mobile phone) are carried. However, with little current to contend with, some dive centres will anchor a boat and leave it unattended while diving.
Thats pretty horrific to divers used to UK conditions, but you soon get used to it and take relevant precautions. There is nothing to hone your navigational skills like the knowledge that there will be no-one on the surface to come and collect you if you swim in the wrong direction.
Its fine if all goes well, but consider an emergency ascent with an incapacitated diver. Delays getting them into the boat and to appropriate care could be critical.
If such diving practices concern you, make sure that you ask about the centres policy before booking.
Many Mediterranean destinations are not specifically dive destinations. While everywhere gets the occasional dedicated diving group, particularly in winter, most tourists are on general holidays. The bread-and-butter business of most dive centres is consequently selling try-dives and Discover Scuba diving days to the package tourists, then converting these into open water courses and providing easy escorted dives for those who have completed the course.
This is great for beginners, but can be frustrating for more experienced divers. Check with a dive centre that it will accommodating the sort of diving you want to do. By splitting a boat trip between experienced and easy sites, or running separate boat trips, everyone can be happy.
In addition to the smooth grey conger eel, the Mediterranean is also home to a fair variety of moray eels. While they compete for the same prey, conger and moray eels can often be found sharing the same hole.
Tucked in a hole, they can easily be told apart, as moral eels have a pinched face with the jaw towards the bottom, while conger eels have a more evenly pointed face with the jaw just below the middle. Moray eels also often look as if their skin doesnt fit very well.
Morays come in a variety of types. Most common is the honeycombed moray, with a mottled yellow and brown pattern. The one below is on the wreck of the Malakoff in Minorca.
Life is much easier with the Euro. Even in countries that dont have it as their form of exchange, it is widely accepted. The Euro has become the international currency.
Mediterranean countries currently signed up to the Euro are Spain, France, Italy and Greece, with Cyprus due to join in 2007 and Malta in 2008.
One of the great attractions of Mediterranean destinations is that they have been catering for family holidays since long before diving came along. Many (but not all) dive centres consequently offer family-friendly schedules, enabling parents to get a dive in withoutleaving the family for too long.
Not that children are likely to care about this. With resorts having well-organised kiddie clubs, parents could easily disappear for longer. In the evening, the resort babysitting service can be used for more than a chance to get out for a drink - get in a night dive!
You can also look out for dive centres offering family trips, with a mixture of diving, snorkelling and a beach to play on in between.
Dont be surprised to see continental families bringing children out to dinner with them late in the evening. The children eat a bit and sleep at the table, while the parents eat more, then sit back and finish the wine.
While food available in tourist resorts is usually multinational, Mediterranean countries generally excel at pizza, pasta, steak and, of course, seafood. As an environmentally minded diver, please consider how sustainable the fishery is that you are busy eating!
The Mediterranean coast of France is where Jacques Cousteau and his colleagues tested and perfected the aqualung - the device that made our diving obsession possible.
Scenery above water varies from long sandy beaches to mountains dropping straight into the sea, and the diving is equally varied. But this is one of the busiest shipping areas in the Med, so most divers come to the South of France for its wrecks.
Local wreckies have always dived deep, so it isnt unusual for dive-boats to visit wrecks in the 40-60m range. East from Marseilles towards Toulon and the island of Porquerolles, wrecks include the cargo vessels Donator, Sagona, Michel Say, and Togo, the naval support ship Arroyo sunk to train navy divers in 1953, the tug Tantine and a torpedo-boat.
All are fairly complete, and the paddle steamer Ville De Grasse still has intact paddle wheels.
Continuing east towards St Tropez, the Free French submarine Rubis rests in 40m, scuttled as a sonar target in 1956.
For those not into such depths, there are the cargo vessels Chaouen in 26ms, San Domenico in 33m, Ferrando in 25m and Liban in 30m.
The South of France is not a big destination with British divers, but dive centres are used to looking after divers from all over Europe.
The rock of Gibraltar separates the Mediterranean from the Atlantic, the dividing line being south of Europa Point. The best diving is all on the Atlantic side, extending into the straits, so as any Gibraltarian dive centre will tell you, the diving is not really in the Med. Still, Gibraltar is a Mediterranean destination, so we had to mention it.
There are plenty of wrecks on the outside of the harbour moles, the two most popular being the Roslyn and Excellent. The upturned Excellent in 30m was a steel-hulled schooner-rigged steamship that sank in 1888. The 3500 ton Roslyn came to grief in 1916, and lies upright in 18m (stern railing, above).
There is no shore access to the moles, but for a beach dive, in Camp Bay a number of artificial reefs have been sunk, the largest being a crane and cable barge in 17m. If anyone suggests diving a pair of Sherman tanks off Europa Point, be cautious - they are directly below the sewage outfall.
Further out into the strait are submerged reefs luxuriant in marine life fed by the near-continuous current from the Atlantic. There isnt a slack, but it does drop to a manageable dive with the tide. Dive centres are in Gibraltar or on the Spanish side of the border in La Linea.
Red and yellow sea fans can be found on deeper walls, especially where there is some current. If the water gets too warm, they turn white.
Like its big brother Malta, the island of Gozo is famous for its shore-diving and caves, though until the sinking of the car ferry Xlendi as an artificial reef in 1999, it couldnt compete on wrecks.
The western half is surrounded by towering cliffs, broken by small bays and inlets where divers can get access to the sea. Below the surface, it gets very deep very quickly. The caves are on a similarly big scale. At Reqqa Reef, Billingshurst Cave cuts back right underneath the area where most divers park to surface in a cavern with a small beach. Have a look for the visitors book fixed to the wall.
By Dwerja Point, just round the corner to the south of the famous Azure Window, Coral Cave is a massive funnel-shaped inlet that cuts back beneath the rocky beach. It gets its name from the fine branching corals that decorate the walls and roof.
Nearby, a tunnel leads from the inland sea to the north or Dwerja Point. Then, almost below the arch, the Blue Hole flushes like an enormous toilet bowl in anything but the calmest sea.
The Greek islands stretch across the Aegean sea from Corfu by the Albanian border to Rhodes and a chain of smaller islands within sight of Turkey. Each island has its own character, in some cases derived from the locals, but in many cases, particularly from a visitors perspective, derived from the type of tourist for which the island has become famous.
Diving was until recently severely restricted in Greek waters. There are many archaeological sites and the authorities are always anxious to protect the sites from accidental or deliberate disturbance.
Over the past few years there has been a change, with the realisation that controlled and licensed diving has a vital role to play in a tourist economy and that it is in the dive centres interest to help police the restricted archaeological sites.
So diving is much more easy to come by than it used to be, but please check the availability of diving on your island before booking a package holiday. You could be unwittingly going to one of those few places where diving is still prohibited.
Naturally inquisitive predators, groupers are a favourite target for all the spearfishers who like to shoot fish. Where unprotected, they are scarce and survivors timid. Fortunately for divers, and even more so for groupers, many countries are catching onto the idea of marine reserves which allow plenty of groupers to grow to their full adult size. While the motivation for marine reserves is as much to preserve breeding stocks of fish for the fishing communities as for divers, we can all enjoy the benefits.
Urchins have spines, jellyfish can sting and bristleworms (above) are poisonous, but the main hazard to divers in the Mediterranean comes from people. In typically clear blue water, it is easy for divers to stray deeper than they are prepared or trained for, running all the usual deep diving risks without realising what they are doing. With plenty of beer and especially wine available, and a hot climate, the hazards of decompression illness are exaggerated by dehydration.
It isnt just themselves that divers have to be scared of. In some areas, boat and jet-ski traffic can zoom about with little awareness of divers below. A safety stop takes on a new purpose - not for deco, but for looking up to see what maniacs with propellers are about!
Contrary to what reality TV and the tabloid press would have us believe, the drunken clubbing scene touches only a small part of this Balearic island. European tourists other than the British visit Ibiza for quiet remote beaches, unspoiled hiking trails and the classic architecture of the old citadel.
Diving is most developed in the Cala dHort Marine Nature Reserve, a small rocky archipelago off the north-west tip of Ibiza. There are some nice walls of gorgonians, moray eels, shoals of bream, octopus, barracuda and the occasional big grouper, though these tend to be shy, as enforcement of spearfishing prohibitions leaves a lot to be desired.
Like many Mediterranean islands, the geology is favourable tounderwater caves, with quite an extensive system of caves and arches along the north coast to Islas Margaritas, then another cave system at the Pillars of Hercules, and on the south coast at Cala Olivera. If caves are your thing, however, there are far more in Minorca or Majorca.
Consider the number of mainstream diving brands that originate in Italy, and it is little surprise that there is a thriving diving scene catering for Italian divers who want to dive all round their country.
They like to look good wearing the latest designer dive gear and they like to see fish, so Italy has a growing collection of marine reserves which are paying off in rich dive sites.
You can find a dive school or club just about anywhere in Italy, but some areas are easier to dive in for a tourist diver.
Portofino in the north-west has one of the longest-established marine reserves, home to the original Christ of the Abyss statue and catering for many visiting divers.Further down the coast the island of Elba, the location of Napoleons first exile, is noted for good fish life and plenty of colour.
If you are off the normal tourist diving track, note that the term club often refers to a local dive centre. A club may not cater primarily for international diving tourists, but will have gear for hire and will still go diving, though the schedule may be more suited to locals than visitors.
With the longest and most varied coastline of any Mediterranean country, Italian diving has a lot to offer.
Just as at home, Mediterranean types of jellyfish come with various degrees of stinging ability, though the real risk to divers is that when the water is warmer, heads, legs and arms may not be protected by neoprene.
You are unlikely to see the clouds of jellyfish often encountered in British water, as there is too little plankton in the water, so a jellyfish sighting can be a significant event on a dive. Approached with good buoyancy control and plenty of caution, jellyfish can be fascinating to watch, especially when juvenile fish hide among their tentacles.
Just a few miles apart, the towns of Kas and Kalkan on the southern coast of Turkey were, until 2001, in the middle of a big area off-limits to divers.
In addition to the usual reefs and caves, the big attraction is the number of wrecks, ancient and modern, that are now available as dive sites. A badly charted reef off Kalkan is the resting place of the steamship Duchess of York, which went missing in 1916, and the larger merchant ship Sakarya, which sank in 1957.
With three-quarters of one wreck yet to be found and a quarter of the other missing, it took divers a while to work out that they are actually two different wrecks.
Other wrecks in the area include a wooden gulet in 25m, an Ottoman wreck with a fair amount of timber intact, an un-named steel wreck and many ancient sites with amphorae in various states of repair.
Divers are warned to check the credentials of dive centres. Many are genuine and affiliated to recognised training organisations, but there are some cowboys about.
Water temperature varies through the year and from west to east. In the western Mediterranean it can be as cold as 12C in winter, while in the east, surface water temperatures reach the high 20s in summer. If diving deep, there can be a vicious thermocline back to winter temperatures somewhere between 40 and 50m.
Well-equipped dive centres working year round will have rental suits ranging from a full 5mm or 7mm to 3mm shorties.
Cylinders are almost universally steel 12 or 15 litres with DIN-fitting valves, often with Y or H dual outlets. Some dive centres may insist on divers having a regulator fitted to both outlets. While dive centres will have inserts to convert for international A-clamp regulators, a large influx of UK divers may overwhelm their stock.
Nitrox is becoming a big thing. Its worth keeping an eye out for centres offering the NRC qualification now adopted by PADI. If you have their qualification, you can get free nitrox when diving with any supporting dive centre (membrane nitrox system, above).
With much more water evaporating than fresh water entering from rainfall and rivers, Mediterranean salinity is almost twice that we are used to in UK waters - about the same as in the Red Sea. So on a diver displacing 100kg with kit, between 1kg and 2kg of extra weight will be needed compared to the same kit in UK waters.
Having said that, many divers are habitually so over-weighted that they wont notice the difference in buoyancy.
Mediterranean conditions are generally benign, with little current, but it is always worth travelling with a delayed SMB and a short length of line among your safety kit.
The most common mistake of tourists taking an impulsive decision to learn to dive on holiday is leaving it too late in the week. As you are reading , you should already be at the stage at which you are unlikely to make this mistake.
While PADI schools can be found in most countries, there are also plenty of CMAS-affiliated schools and BSAC schools in areas frequented by UK divers.
Choice of training agency is no longer the issue it used to be. Entry-level qualifications are broadly equivalent across all organisations, and there are defined crossovers at higher grades.
With the civil war a thing of the past, tourism in Lebanon is picking up and so are opportunities for diving. Wreck diving in Lebanon recently made the news with the discovery of HMS Victoria (see separate entry), a technical dive from 77m and deeper.
Technical diving aside, there are further wrecks from World War Two, the Lebanese civil war and from general shipping accidents.
The water in Majorca dont taste like wot it oughta. From a diving point of view it is very salty. The largest of the Balearic Islands, Majorca has plenty of diving to offer, from caves to rich marine reserves to wrecks and deep walls.
It must be something Spanish, but they hardly ever bother with the real names for their wrecks. Off Palma are the Double Wreck and Single Wreck, both steel cargo vessels, though the former includes a yacht.
Then another and deeper steel wreck is called the Eel Wreck, after the mob of conger and moray eels that inhabit it.
Sea caves of varying lengths are etched into the cliffs all round Majorca. Some, like the Devils Cave, have formations of stalagmites and stalactites, a legacy of old freshwater stream-ways before changes in sea level.
Inland, Majorcas limestone geology has resulted in a wealth of much more serious freshwater caves. Cova de sa Gleda, with more than 10,500 metres of passage, is one of the largest submerged cave systems in Europe.
Malta was the first Mediterranean country to recognise diving as a significant sector of the holiday business, and it is a long-term favourite with British divers. Two of the big attractions are the economy and freedom of Maltese diving. Malta is one of the few places where it is not only possible and practical, but also encouraged, for visiting divers simply to rent some diving equipment, drive to the nearest rock or beach, and take themselves diving.
Until recently, divers required a local medical and diving permit. Regulations are now the same as anywhere else, so that medical waivers and international certifications are accepted.
At the same time, restrictions on technical diving have been removed and there is growing support for technical training and exploration.
There are plenty of reefs, walls, caves and wrecks to dive, with depths to suit everyone. In addition to a good sprinkling of wartime and other natural wrecks (capstan drive on HMS Maori, right), Malta is leading the way with artificial reefs such as the Um-el-Faroud, a tanker sunk in 1998.
A few local children cause hassles way out of proportion to their number by breaking into cars parked at dive sites. Leave everything that will not be going under water in your hotel room.
Things go slowly in most Mediterranean countries. Its just too easy to doze off in the warm shade, or stop to have a chat with someone and spend an hour or more, regardless of whether divers are waiting to get on the boat. The good news is that, as long as the dive happens eventually, missing slack water is unlikely to be a problem. Most Mediterranean locations have no tide or current.
We could have written more about mañana, but its time for a siesta. We may get round to it eventually...
The geology of Minorca is perfect for shallow easy caves and canyons, cut back into the limestone cliffs at depths from 10m to the surface, mostly with air above and barely out of the light zone.
Beyond the shallower caves are some more advanced prospects, both in length and depth. Pont den Gil cave was cut by an ancient stream-way, then flooded by a change in sea level. The consequence is a seawater cave stretching 20m into the cliff with the very rare addition of stalagmites and stalactites, both underwater and in air spaces above. For really deep caves, out towards Majorca at 70m a broken bubble in the seabed leads to a cave system that is only beginning to be explored with trimix.
Getting away from reefs and caves, the few wrecks tend to be deepish without going beyond air depths. Rising 10m from a 49m seabed, the Fracisquita was a 500 ton coaster that sprang a leak and sank in 1952. Its nicely intact and upright, has a resident grouper, and a shoal of barracuda (left) spiral over the superstructure.
Ten metres shallower and more broken is the Malakoff, a French steamship that sank in a blizzard in 1929.
Across the straits from Gibraltar, one would expect the north coast of Morocco to have a similar spread of high-energy diving and wrecks. It does, though diving as a tourist attraction is still a very new thing and dive centres are hard to find.
Tangier is a good place to start. Strictly speaking, it is outside the Mediterranean, but so is the best of Gibraltars diving, so to be fair we have included it.
In addition to wrecks from ancient archaeological sites to WW2, and more modern ones as well, there are also reefs lining the Moroccan side of the strait, from depths of 10-60m. The few known caves tend to be deep, 65m and greater.
In between the ancient and the modern is a whole range of wrecks, perhaps the most interesting coming from the Napoleonic period.
The best known Napoleonic wrecks are in Aboukir Bay off Egypt, the remains of a fleet massacred by Nelson in the Battle of the Nile in 1798. The wrecks of the 2000 ton French flagship lOrient and the frigates Serieuse and Artemise have been located and surveyed by archaeologists.
More accessible to tourist divers, from 1705 and before Napoleonic times, the Lys was a French galleon deliberately run aground off Marbella and burnt by her crew to avoid being captured. In only 7m of water, there is a surprisingly large amount of wooden wreckage remaining.
Found on shallow sandy seabeds throughout the Mediterranean, neptune grass plays an important environmental role. Interconnected root systems stabilise the sand, while the forest of green provides an environment in which juvenile fish can mature.
Diving is much less developed in the Turkish northern part of Cyprus than the Greek southern part. There are fewer divers and dive centres, so you can get even further away from it all.
With large stretches of undeveloped beaches, northern Cyprus is the last big refuge of turtle nesting in the Mediterranean. From May to July, green and loggerhead turtles crawl up the beaches, dig nests and bury eggs. A month or two later, the young turtles hatch and flap their way down the sand and out to sea.
Diving is similar to the southern part of Cyprus, generally shallow with sections of wall, reef and small caves. A broken steel wreck is unidentified.
Salamis, the ancient capital of Cyprus, was destroyed by earthquakes in Roman times, with the ground subsiding leaving areas of ruins in the shallow sea. Broken columns and stone blocks are eroded and hard to identify. They lie so shallow that they are easier to snorkel over than to dive.
Nudibranchs ranging from tiny puffs of fuzz to monster slugs are the sort of thing to get macro enthusiasts excited. Colour schemes vary from intricate camouflage to bright schemes designed to alert fish that they are not edible. One thing they all share is the fronds of an external gill, the naked gill from which they get their Latin name. Those below were spotted at Marbella in Spain.
The Sicilian Channel between Sicily and Tunisia divides the Mediterranean into western and eastern basins. Water enters the Mediterranean from the Atlantic through the Strait of Gibraltar, flowing south of the Balearic Islands and along the North African coastline, driving a general anti-clockwise movement of water in the western Mediterranean basin.
The water flow is always into the Mediterranean on the surface. Sunshine and dry continental winds cause surface water to evaporate and salinity to increase further into the sea. The denser water sinks to give an outgoing deepwater current.
The anti-clockwise circulation of the western Mediterranean basin drives even milder anti-clockwise circulation in the eastern basin, with distinct circulations in the Adriatic and Ionian seas. For example, unless overridden by local factors, current in Croatia will generally be from the south. Current between Marbella and Morocco will generally be from the west.
With plenty of islands to dodge and spin the water round, seasonal wind patterns and storms often drive surface currents that run contrary to the general circulation patterns of water.
Octopuses are strongly territorial and defend a home lair in a rock crevice or hole in a wreck. The easy way to spot an octopuss lair is by the piles of dinner shells left outside. Its like spotting a computer geeks house by the piles of empty pizza boxes outside, but much more interesting.
Octopuses hunt mainly at dusk and dawn but can often be found sitting outside during the day, watching the world go by.
The species most likely to be seen in the Med is the common octopus, Octopus vulgaris, which can grow up to 1m in length.
Unlike the smaller lesser octopus, Eledone cirrhosa, which are found in British waters, the common variety has two rows of suckers beneath each arm.
Octopuses are generally curious and if they are not molested, and have not been in the past, will often approach and even play footsie with your hand if you have the patience to lie there, as with the specimen below.
Want to be a pioneer We have included a few places outside the usual diving destinations in this A-Z, such as Lebanon and Morocco, but there are other Mediterranean countries that are little explored by divers. Sometimes this is down to politics, sometimes to local lack of resources, sometimes both.
Both Croatia and Greece offer plenty of diving, but located between them on the Adriatic coastline, Bosnia, Serbia and Albania are almost untouched internationally. Continuing round the Mediterranean, Syria has a chunk of coastline between Lebanon and Turkey. Then when we get to north Africa, save for close to Alexandria and Tunisia, the whole coast from Egypt throughLibya and Algeria to Morocco is virtually undived.
An estimate published 15 years ago suggested that more than half a billion tons of sewage were discharged into the Mediterranean every year, about 80% of it untreated. The same report also suggested that, with sewage feeding the plankton, fishery yields in some of the offending areas had actually increased as a result. Anyone for sushi
These days, tourist beaches in the EU part of the western Mediterranean are more likely to pass water environmental targets than many British beaches, although the eastern Mediterranean still lags behind.
If, on an otherwise average stretch of coastline, one dive is reputed to be overwhelmingly better in the quantity of marine life, perhaps ask where the nearest outfall is before signing up for it.
The British abroad - we like to take our culture with us. You dont see bars proudly proclaiming their German or Belgian origin for the benefit of German or Belgian tourists. Italian and Chinese restaurants are for everyone else to visit and enjoy the food. Yet walk through Mediterranean towns with even the smallest British presence and there will be pub signs proudly proclaiming British Pub with Genuine British Pub Food and Live Sky Football, aimed exclusively at British tourists.
For many. this is a good reasons for going to a Mediterranean country, but for those who want to try the local bars, here are the essential language skills:
English - One large beer please
Spanish - Una cerveza grande por favor
French - Une grande biere sil vous plait
Italian - Una biera grande per favore
Greek - Mia megali mpira parakalo
Maltese - Tini birra kbir jekk joghgbok
Serbian - Molim vas jedno veliko pivo
Croatian - Jednu veliku pivu molim
Arabic - Wahed Beera Kibeir Lousamat
Turkish - Bir buyuk bira lutfen
Or earthquakes, but we were short of Qs. Geologically, the Mediterranean Sea is the gap between the European and African tectonic plates. Movement of the plates results in the occasional earthquake, particularly towards the eastern Mediterranean, where the general standard of building is not earthquake-proof.
In the event of an earthquake, head for open space or, failing that, the strongest part of a building, such as a doorway. Also, as we have sadly learned from Asia, head for high ground and away from the sea.
But serious earthquakes are rare events, and many more tourists are run over by mad continental drivers every year than get swallowed up by seismic shifts. As a diver, you are out in a boat a fair bit of the time, anyway.
With the weakening of the Earths crust between the tectonic plates, the central Mediterranean is also home to some famous volcanoes: Etna, Vesuvius and Stromboli.
Look under ledges and wrecks or out across the sand to find sting rays partly buried with their eyes poking out. Other rays to keep an eye open for are torpedo (electric) rays, which are rounded in shape with a mottled pattern, and eagle rays, the plain grey-brown variety rather than the spotted sort seen in the tropics.
Sardinia has some of the oldest geology in the Med, with ancient granite giving way to equally ancient limestone riddled with caves. Changes in sea level have led to cave systems kilometres long becoming flooded to give some of the longest sea caves known. While such caves are beyond most divers, there are plenty of smaller ones in which to play among Sardinias cliffs and reefs (Capo Figari, right).
With an Italian naval base at the north of the island and aggressive Allied submarines such as HMS Safari, Sardinia has a fair collection of wartime wrecks. A classic example is the German supply ship KT12 off Oresei, torpedoed while full of supplies for the Afrika Korps in 1943.
Other enticing wrecks are spread round the coast, though as Sardinia is the largest island in the Mediterranean, the only practical way to tour the whole island in a single trip is by liveaboard.
For a shore-based trip, the north-east corner of Sardinia is a good choice, with the KT12 just about at the southern limit that can be comfortably reached in a day trip, and the Lavezzi groupers nearby in the marine reserve towards Corsica.
Scorpionfish are common throughout the Med, usually found resting in the open, relying on their tasselled camouflage to disguise them. If disturbed, they flare their pectoral and dorsal fins to show bright patterns, warning predators of their poisonous spines. With care they can be approached closely, and make colourful photographic subjects.
The Mediterranean is not the place to go to dive with sharks. Big pelagic species such as white, blue and thresher sharks have been seen (and caught) by fishermen, but not by divers. More likely sightings are angel sharks and varieties of dogfish, the same as those in British waters.
Located on the crossroads between east and west Mediterranean basins, filling the gap between Italy and Tunisia, Sicily has been important both strategically and commercially since ancient times.
Little surprise, then, that its dive sites include a fair number of wrecks, from ancient amphora sites to wartime steel wrecks and later. These range in depth from open water to moderately technical and, no doubt, beyond.
For something a bit different, aircraft wrecks include a Junkers Ju52 transport, a Macchi MC200 Saetta fighter, a Hawker Hurricane, a Bristol Beaufighter and a Fairey Fulmar.
Tiny islands to the north of Sicily are another gear down in the pace of life. More than one are marine reserves with a rewarding density of fish life.
The Spanish Mediterranean coastline runs from the Costa Brava by the French border to the Costa del Sol, with Costa this and Costa that in between. The entire coastline is well developed with package-tour operators, making it the favourite place for the British to holiday abroad. It doesnt costa lot.
The Medas Isles off the Costa Brava is the longest-established diving location, with an equally well established marine reserve and respectable fish stocks. Dive centres are based in Estartit on the mainland to the north-east of Barcelona.
Other hot spots for UK package holidays with well-established dive centres include Alicante, Mar Menor and Cabo de Palos (bow of the Naranjito, above), Almeria, Malaga and Marbella.
In addition to plenty of easy coastal diving, there are sizeable offshore reefs and small islands along most of the coast and a fair number of wrecks, ranging from ancient to steel.
With long stretches of sandy beach, caves are not as common as in the Balearics.
Unless you can book a package tour with a hotel right next to a dive centre, you will probably want to rent a car to make the most of the diving. Many hotels are located on nice stretches of sandy beach, while dive centres tend to be located at marinas and where there is good boat access.
With typically clear blue water, predictable seasonal weather and generally little current, the Mediterranean is a good place for suitably prepared divers to go deep. However, the availability of gases and local diving regulations restrict the support available for technical diving in many countries. It may be practised by locals, but is rarely set up to accommodate visiting divers.
Malta has dive centres actively providing technical training and diving aimed at visiting divers. Other countries with significant levels of technical diving are Italy, France and Spain.
Tunisia is another Mediterranean country not normally associated with diving, at least among Britains travelling divers. Towards the Algerian border, Tabarka offers a typically Mediterranean selection of walls, canyons, caves and tunnels and a marine reserve with big, tame groupers.
Another region worth investigating is the north-west corner of Tunisia at Cape Bon, the closest point in Africa to Sicily. The Royal Navy Cruiser HMS Manchester is in technical depths off Cape Bon, and there are reputed to be at least 50 other known diveable wrecks. But information on them is hard to come by.
Turkey has long been a favourite for economy holidays with diving. The long-established diving areas are Marmaris, Bodrum and Fethiye, with Kas and Kalkan being recent newcomers.
A lot of aspiring divers come to Turkey to learn, which, combined with repeat visitors and more experienced divers, has led to larger dive centres allocating boats by level of experience, with separate boats for trainees, recently qualified divers and experienced divers.
Most boats are gulets, the traditional Turkish sailing hull, motorised and set up for diving. These operate both as day-boats and liveaboards, and some are very basic, while others represent the peak of style and luxury.
Diving covers the usual Mediterranean cross-section of reefs, walls, canyons and caves, with a few modern wrecks and plenty of ancient amphora sites. Nevertheless, many of the more significant ancient wrecks remain strictly off limits, and woe betide the diver who transgresses.
A number of species of sea urchin are common throughout the Med, in some places hiding in cracks and in others running rampant across the rocks. Divers need to take particular care of brushing against long-spined urchins (often referred to as spiny bastards). Their spines can easily penetrate multiple layers of wetsuit to break off under the skin. Take particular care when entering and leaving the water from rocky beaches.
On 22 June, 1893, HMS Victoria, flagship of the Mediterranean fleet, sank off Lebanon following a collision with HMS Camperdown. The tragedy was the consequence of over-ambitious precision fleet manoeuvring ordered by Admiral Sir George Tryon. HMS Victoria went down bow-first in just 13 minutes.
The really unusual thing about the wreck is that it is reported to be standing on end, the bow dug into the silt at past 140m and the stern rising to 77m!
In most places diving is available year round, but in the winter months some dive centres close and more will move over to a winter schedule, opening only at weekends for local divers.
Storms are more frequent in winter and restrict diving. Picking somewhere with sheltered options such as two coasts from which to dive in case of bad weather is worth considering for winter trips.
Water temperature varies tremendously through the year, so it is best to ask your dive centre how much wetsuit to bring with you. A drysuit will not be out of place in winter.
Marine wildlife is not as prolific in the Mediterranean as on a coral reef, or even as prolific as in UK waters. The impact is exaggerated by the typically good visibility. Nevertheless, most locations have at least a few dive sites where there is more than enough to occupy a dive.
On sparser sites, ignore the visibility and look in holes for eels and octopuses and among the algae and hydroids for small stuff such as nudibranchs.
Various types of small and colourful wrasse can be found throughout the Mediterranean. In any group, for most kinds of wrasse, one larger male will have a distinctly brighter colour than smaller females. Should the male die or the group grow too big, one of the females will turn into a male.
Wrecks in the Mediterranean range from ancient sites marked by amphorae and ballast stones to modern steel vessels and everything in between. Assuming you want a serious wreck-diving trip, but not technical, with enough wrecks to keep you busy for a week, our recommendations are: France, Sardinia (specialist wreck liveaboard trip), Italy (as long as you have a car to get between wreck areas) and Croatia (car again).
Notable technical diving expeditions to the Mediterranean have included those to explore the Britannic off Athens and HMS Manchester off Tunisia. But expeditions dont have to be technical. A number of UK universities have ongoing archaeological expeditions to various parts of the Mediterranean to locate and survey ancient wrecks.
Compared to many parts of the world, Mediterranean countries usually offer better local resources and infrastructure, but officials can still require special licences to be paid for expeditions to go ahead - and the price-tag can be hefty.
Yachting flotilla holidays are particularly popular off Croatia and among the Greek islands. We dont know of anyone offering a yachting holiday with diving included, that doesnt stop enterprising divers doing it for themselves by researching a list of dive centres on the flotillas course and phoning ahead to book dives at the next port once arrival times are known. Some dive centres have this so well sorted out that they will even pick divers up from their yacht on the way to the dive site.
Training agencies, particularly PADI, have recognised the market for parents wanting to take their children diving, and offer junior diving courses.
Open water courses are now offered for children as young as 12, with snorkelling and swimming pool-only courses for younger children.
However, some countries place legal restrictions on the minimum diving age. For example, in Spain it is 16. Unless a regional law takes precedence over the national law, dive centres accepting younger divers in Spain are operating illegally and also against PADI advice.
For many divers, the wreck of the ro-ro ferry Zenobia is Cyprus diving. There are divers who visit Cyprus again and again to dive the Zenobia, the whole Zenobia, and nothing but the Zenobia.
This car ferry is the Meds best-dived wreck, and sank in 1980 only a short distance from the harbour at Larnaca. Reports blame both problems with a computerised ballast system and operator error for the capsize. Since then it has rested on one side, rising to 15m from a 42m seabed.
Its a wreck that offers something for everyone, from beginners swimming along the side of the hull through varying levels of depth and wreck penetration that become pretty extreme.
No lives were lost when the Zenobia went down, but quite a few divers have subsequently pushed fatally beyond their experience and luck, so take care.