THE WATER TEMPERATURE was around 23°, and as I dropped to a seagrass meadow below me and turned my spotting torch on, what appeared from above as dark and dingy stands of seagrass came alive with life.
Amid the plants’ roots were delicate growths of algae, coral-like with their calcified structures. Orange and yellow sponges, lace corals, cup corals and tubeworms were everywhere among the Posidonia’s fibrous roots. I was quickly gaining a new appreciation for the stuff.
The plants’ long strappy leaves were covered in minute life and, at the roots, new bright green leaves were growing.
A slightly rockier area held an octopus that eyed me warily. It had collected shell remains and rocks around its hole for protection, and was holding them ready to pull over its head if I got too close.
Everyone had now descended. We all signalled OK and finned across the meadows alongside a limestone ridge that soon gave way to a fine arch, with a span of 5 or 6m.
Several large grouper, and a shoal of brown meagre and zebra bream parted to let us explore. Small, bright red cardinalfish hung close to the arch’s ceiling, while growths of Posidonia atop the structure looked like wild tufts of hair.
The cardinalfish, not caring which way was up, were upside-down, holding station just beneath the arch’s roof.
Before long we encountered the barracuda. Manu had said that they were approachable, and he was right.
As we took up position for a shot or two, they slowly circled above us. It was hard to estimate their numbers, but there were at least a hundred, sunlight glinting on their silver flanks.
We turned and headed back, past the mooring-line, sunlight streaming down.
I was bothering a few more octopuses until Jose, one of Vellmari’s team, started banging on his tank like a man possessed.
He was pointing and calling me over in between making a racket, pointing into the Posidonia. And there, on the edge of a patch of seagrass, tail wrapped around a leaf-blade, was the first seahorse I had ever seen in the wild.
Slightly cursing my wide-angle lens, I finned ever so slowly towards the shy animal to marvel at its camouflage. I took a few shots and pulled back, allowing Manu in with his video camera. We were all rather pleased with ourselves!
Back on the boat, Pierre-Yves and I confided to each other that this seahorse was a first for both of us!
Next morning, I took a little time to explore the island, visiting salt-pans, bird reserves and dunes before joining Vellmari for one more dive. I’d asked for another chance to shoot close-ups, and fitted a macro lens.
Was I being greedy? I’d enjoyed an almost perfect dive the day before. “There are many nudibranchs at Es Banc,” Jose suggested, and I didn’t need much arm-twisting. A few nice nudis would be fine, and you never know, the seahorse might still be there, I thought to myself.
The vis had improved a little, with a mild current from the south, to at least 30m. We found a few bright purple Flabellina nudibranchs quite quickly, and I set to work trying to shoot these delicate animals, with their fine cerrata flailing in the current.
I kept looking over to Jose, who was scouring the seagrass bed, hoping to find another seahorse. I found another nudi, this time a migrating aeolid, and then decided to join him.
In a perfect world, and to make for a better story, we’d have spotted one with minutes to spare… or even two, but we all know that diving doesn’t work like that.
Still, I had my seahorse pics and an almost perfect dive. I mentally wished the curious little fish well in all that lovely Posidonia, stretching into the distance.
My last memory of the dive was of handing my camera up onto the boat and looking down at the seagrass, and seeing it swaying gently in the current.
Of all the thousands of years it’s been there, providing refuge for uncountable numbers of animals, long may it prosper. I remained smug for quite some time.