The longshore drift of La Manga in the region of Murcia is a natural phenomenon that has largely been transformed into a Spanish holiday resort. Stretching 13 miles from Cape Palos to Torre de la Horadada,
this narrow spit of sand would once have been a major turtle-nesting site in the Mediterranean – if not the largest of the northern Mediterranean coastline.
Development starting in the 1960s and growing through the ’70s and ’80s put paid to that. However, La Manga is virtually on the doorstep of UK divers, and conservation trends have grown significantly since those developments. The Spanish authorities take protection of their marine heritage very seriously.
This location has it all for divers across a cross-section of capabilities and tastes, and it is the perfect location for fledgling introductions to the undersea world. There are deep wrecks for the tekkies; wrecks to be found and recorded by avid archaeologists; shallow grassy slopes, ravines and swim-throughs for bibbling snappers and a number of dive-centres staffed by enthusiastic experts who work more collaboratively than I have experienced elsewhere in the world.
Shoal of amberjack.
All sites hold the promise of varied and quite prolific fish populations. This is thanks to the introduction of large and protected marine reserves in 1995 – the Reserva Marina de Cabo de Palos e Islas Hormigas.
La Manga was the most recent destination for my now-annual pilgrimage with my buddy. We joined the British Sub-Aqua Club in 1981 and, several wetsuits and three drysuits later, remain members and enjoy every moment we spend under water.
We look for locations that appear unlike the norm and hold interest on various fronts. When Brian first sent me the plan for visiting mid-to-northern Spain, I was dubious. I had dived slightly further south in Andalucía, and had found it underwhelming and fished out.
The information from Ed, who runs Scuba Murcia, changed my perception. He provided details of the marine reserve and, within that, the more challenging exploration of the known protected wreck-sites.
Diving is strictly monitored. Marine reserves and the wrecks, flora and fauna within them are strongly protected and actively policed by local and federal authorities. A foot put wrong by an operator or diver meets what I consider proportionate punishment – passport taken and detention prior to trial!
The UK could learn much from the Spanish discipline here. The authorities have been bold enough to apply stringent legislation to preserve the marine environment and marine archaeology, and the evidence under water suggests that their approach is working.
We had to get permission from both the local and federal authorities to dive the known wrecks. Scuba Murcia made the case for us on the basis of our experience of wreck research and preservation from our collective past, and we passed the test.
We had made our requirements clear and were introduced to our winged-up twin steel 12s with Hogarthian rigs. Day one started with an assessment and rig-adjustment dive.
A five-minute boat-ride from the marina at Cape Palos brought us to the dive-site in the marine reserve beneath the rocky outcrop on which sits the last manned lighthouse in Europe.
There was talk of Mola mola and large grouper, but while we spotted only the flailing top fin of a sunfish at the surface, our 20m dive rewarded us in other ways.
Swaying, translucent green seaweed and grasses glowing in the sunlight that penetrated the clear water formed an inviting underwater landscape, sculpted by the massive boulder and rocky-outcrop formations. In and out of the grasses flashed numerous fish, including a great number of cuckoo wrasse resplendent in their rainbow liveries.
Look closely and bright blue nudibranchs could be seen, while lifting the eyes revealed grouper and snapper and even a lonesome barracuda. Ed also led us through a cavernous swim-through beneath the rock formations.
Brian and I tried out the Hogarthian set-up and simulated out-of-air situations with both of us acting as donor and recipient. It was a very satisfying and scenic 60-minute dive, after which I shed 4kg of lead for the rest of the trip.
Dinner and a brilliant red wine from the Duerro river region of Spain while overlooking the beach ended our first day enjoyably – 12 euros for the wine and 20 for fresh tapas, perfecto!