CABO DE PA­LOS-ISLAS HORMIGAS

Scuba Diver Australasia + Ocean Planet - - Feature: Marine Sanctuaries Around The World - By Mike Kochal­ski

Si­t­u­ated off the beau­ti­ful fish­ing port of

Cabo de Pa­los, Mur­cia, Spain, is the ma­rine re­serve of Cabo de Pa­los-Islas Hormigas. It was de­clared a Spe­cially Pro­tected Area of Mediter­ranean Im­por­tance with the key ob­jec­tive of en­sur­ing the re­pro­duc­tion of com­mer­cial species. The in­ner re­serve of Islas Hormigas is also clas­si­fied as a spe­cial pro­tec­tion area for birds on the is­land and re­quires a spe­cial li­cence to visit.

The to­tal area of the re­serve is some 19 square kilo­me­tres, with a beau­ti­ful seascape of rock pin­na­cles, drop-offs, caves and sea­grass prairies of oceanic Posi­do­nia. There is a great va­ri­ety of fauna and sponges, which are home to the urchins and starfish that pro­vide the hunt­ing grounds for the sea bass, grouper, mul­let and oc­to­pus that abound here. Hid­den amongst the crevasses are mo­ray eels and crus­taceans that thrive in this pro­tected en­vi­ron­ment. The wa­ter tem­per­a­ture ranges from 14 de­grees

Cel­sius in the win­ter to 25 de­grees Cel­sius in the sum­mer with ex­cel­lent wa­ter clar­ity all year round.

This area is con­sid­ered a bio­geo­graph­i­cal bor­der of the Mediter­ranean and seg­re­gates the At­lantic in­flu­ence of the Alb­o­ran Sea from the rest of the Mediter­ranean, cre­at­ing the huge bio­di­ver­sity that the wa­ter masses bring as they di­verge. This is crit­i­cal for bring­ing pelagic species to the area at cer­tain times of the year.

MUST-SEE

PILES 1 – This has a max­i­mum depth of 30 me­tres and con­sists of a rocky ridge ris­ing up from the seabed. Full of crevasses and rocky pro­tru­sions, it is home to in­quis­i­tive mo­ray eels. Dur­ing the months of April to May, oc­to­puses can be seen scur­ry­ing about look­ing for mates. The ever-present jacks and bream min­gle with smaller fish on this ex­cel­lent dive site.

PILES 2 – This sec­ond ridge is sim­i­lar to the first with a max­i­mum depth of 32 me­tres. The rocks here abound with tiny blennies and go­b­ies and the site is a must for the macro pho­tog­ra­pher. With pa­tience, tiny nudi­branchs can also be found, whilst bream and jacks shoal above divers. As the sea­sons move into late sum­mer, large pelagic species ar­rive, hunt­ing bait­balls.

BAJO DE DENTRO – This is a huge rocky spire or “tooth” ris­ing up from the seabed 50 me­tres below. At the 25 me­tre mark, a com­plete swim around will al­low a visit to the cathe­dral-like cave, with soft co­ral and starfish car­pet­ing its ceil­ing and pairs of brown mea­gre gen­tly cruis­ing by. From Au­gust to Septem­ber, small Mediter­ranean sun­fish can be seen as they con­gre­gate around the spire, while tuna and bar­racuda com­plete the ex­pe­ri­ence as they dart around, at­tack­ing bait­balls.

BAJO DE LA TESTA – This is a rocky for­ma­tion, shaped like a plateau and ris­ing up from a seabed of Posi­do­nia ocean­ica (sea­grass) and coralline al­gae from a depth of 24 me­tres. The top of the plateau sits at eight me­tres in full sun­light and is home to many triplefin blennies – per­fect mod­els that will de­light the pho­tog­ra­pher. In July and Au­gust, this is a great site for pho­tog­ra­phers to hang on the down­line at about five me­tres and shoot up into the sun to catch jel­ly­fish drift­ing by.

BAJO DE FUERA – This is the out­er­most site in the re­serve and has been a dan­ger to nav­i­gate over the years. A rocky bar about 100 me­tres long, it has steep pro­trud­ing spires reach­ing to just three me­tres below the sur­face to catch the un­wary sailor. Scat­tered around the rocky bar are the re­mains of sev­eral ships in­clud­ing the Sirio, which sank in 1906 af­ter hit­ting the rocks with a loss of 240 lives. The story of this wreck is one of greed and cor­rup­tion as the im­mi­grant ship from Italy made its way to Amer­ica. Other wrecks in­clude the Nord Amer­ica, and the freighter Min­erva.

TOP A jel­ly­fish float­ing near the sur­face

ABOVE A white-tufted worm

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