FINNING OVER the rocky reef, we were quickly captivated by the local fish species – the pretty Mediterranean parrotfish, the cute Guinean pufferfish, the colour-changing Atlantic damsels and the very inquisitive learned rockfish.
The most colourful fish off Gran Canaria are Mediterranean parrotfish.
There were also numerous species of sea bream, in schools and solitary, including zebra, white, striped, saddled, red-banded and common two-banded varieties.
Following Brian over the rocky reef, the small boulders in the shallows quickly gave way to a series of gutters and walls dropping to the grey sand at 20m.
This was the area I was looking forward to exploring, because sand is where angel sharks live. These ambush predators spend most of their time hidden under a layer of the stuff, which can of course make them difficult to find.
The sand looked barren at first glance, but we soon spotted soles, flounders, razorfish, lizardfish, pufferfish and cute starry weavers. Also on the sand was a colony of brown garden-eels, but they would quickly bury themselves before we could get close with the camera.
Cruising over the sand, but staying close to the edge of the reef, we came across a school of red porgy, then a yellow sting ray and finally a small African cuttlefish. We also saw several spots where angel sharks had been hiding in the sand but, unfortunately, that was it.
Swimming back over the rocky reef, two things struck us as highly unusual – the fireworms and the isopods. Fireworms, also known as bristleworms, are generally active at night, and even then they are only occasionally seen, but on this dive we had noticed more than a dozen crawling over the rocks and algae.
Even stranger was the number of isopods, with every second reef fish having one or more of these blood-sucking parasites attached. We were to repeat this unusual observation at every site we dived.
Of course, other invertebrate species were to be seen, including cleaner shrimps, arrow-crabs, anemones, seastars, sea-cucumbers, sea-hares, sea-slugs and octopuses.
Exploring a series of ledges and caves, Brian pointed out dusky and island grouper, glasseyes, cardinalfish, scorpionfish and trumpetfish.
But the highlight of the dive came near the end, when Brian spotted a tiger moray eel. There are several moray species in the marine reserve, but this is the most spectacular, with its yellow and brown skin patterns and a mouthful of over-sized teeth.
We didn’t find an angel shark, but this dive at Table Top was a great introduction to some of the 400 species to be found in the El Cabron Marine Reserve.
After lunch we dived a site called Two Caves. Once more the fish life was impressive, with schools of bream, goatfish and grunts covering the reef in places, and also plenty of caves to explore. In one cave was a tiny European locust lobster, while in another a round sting
Other caves were home to bream, grouper, arrow-crabs and a slipper lobster. Once more we spent time on the sand, looking for an elusive angel shark, but without luck.
We did see a few yellow sting rays, but missed the spiny butterfly ray that other Davy Jones groups saw. Brian later informed us that they see some 10 species of ray in the marine reserve.
EXPLORING LEDGES, caves and gutters we found octopuses, sea slugs, pufferfish and a rare yellow island grouper. Brian searched the reef for the resident common seahorse but, like the angel shark, it eluded us.
Helen explores the scuttled Cermona II shipwreck.
Instead we found groups of hairy blennies that must have been ready to mate, because they were fighting.
Over the next three days we enjoyed wonderful dives at Luna Reef, Hole in the Wall, Los Roncadores, Punta de la Sol, Playa Risco Verde and Punta de la Monja.
We explored caves, walls, gutters, seagrass beds and vast expanses of sand. We saw plenty of reef and pelagic fish, sting rays and invertebrate species, but still no angel shark. We even did a day-trip to the southern end of Gran Canaria, with Brian organising two boat-dives with Canary Island Adventures out of Taurito.
The first dive on the compact Cermona II shipwreck was impressive, because it was overflowing with fish.
Resting in 20m the wreck has broken open, and is home to trumpetfish, grouper, parrotfish, moray eels and schools of bream, grunts and barracuda.
During the dive we were also buzzed by a submarine full of wide-eyed tourists. It was like being in some bizarre animated Beatles film-clip, with this yellow submarine following us around.
The second dive wasn’t as good, exploring a rocky reef and sandy plain at Perchel. While the visibility was fine at around 20m, marine life was noticeable by its absence – one sting ray, one octopus and a sparse population of reef fish.
It really made us appreciate the rich species diversity of El Cabron.