HAVE YOU HEARD OF Benidorm Island? I hadn’t I until I saw it appear as one of four destinations on the itinerary for a planned trip to discover the diving around the Valencia Community region of eastern Spain.
The other areas on the list included Tabarca Island marine reserve (sounds nice), the Roman remains of a wreck called Bou Ferrer (sounds great), Calpe (sounds interesting) and… Benidorm. Benidorm! Really?
Well, it’s said that “variety is the spice of life”, so with an open mind, I went along to check them all out.
A short car-ride south from Alicante airport delivered me to the town of Santa Pola. Typically sun-baked and with a reasonably flat landscape, this is the closest starting point from which to reach Tabarca and its surrounding marine reserve.
A marina dominates the seafront at Santa Pola, flanked by a pair of reasonably popular beaches. Walking past the bars and restaurants on the evening before my planned dive, I struggled to single out any British voices – this appeared to be a Spanish holiday destination in the main.
Anthias Diving, a friendly dive-centre founded and run by oceanographer Gonzalo Barrio and positioned within the Santa Pola marina itself, was tasked with taking me out to Tabarca.
“Hola! Soy Will! Que tal?” I exclaimed on arrival on the morning of the dive. In my mind I’m fluent in Spanish, but in reality it’s pretty basic.
If a prize were given for “best boat positioned closest to a dive-centre”, Anthias would win it every year, because literally only a metre separates the boat and its building – amazing.
We loaded the boat with our clobber, and together with two dive-centre family-members and a couple of Spanish divers we set off for the marine reserve.
To dive there, you need to provide your diving cert, insurance details and a recent medical document declaring you fit to dive (the latter being overkill, I felt).
The sea-cops did stop our boat en route to check our documents, too, so they do take it seriously. The area around the island was declared a marine reserve of the highest level in 1984, the first of its kind in Spain, thanks to research carried out by the marine-science department of the University of Alicante that alerted the authorities to its importance. Bravo!
Grouper, I was told, would be the highlight of the dive, and Pablo my guide and buddy explained how to approach them. “They are quite shy, so we will need to sneak up on them… no sudden movements, and try to move slowly without blowing too many bubbles – otherwise they will disappear”, he said.
A fixed mooring-line provided an easy descent from the RIB to the seabed at 26m. It felt good to be diving in a wetsuit again after quite a bit of UK drysuit-diving the week before, and the water was not only clear blue but also an inviting 26°. A current kept my heart-rate up as we hit our maximum depth, reaching a strip of rock that makes up this particular dive-site.
Pablo went to work, seeking out interesting little critters for my perusal.
A massive school of barracuda then stole the show with a fly-past, just skimming our heads – these guys were not shy at all.
Here’s a barracuda fact for you – count the rings on its scales and on its otolith
(a structure within the inner ear) and the number will match the age of the fish!