CABO DE PALOS-ISLAS HORMIGAS
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.
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