Coastal Marine Life and a Submerged Mountain around Faial & Princess Alice
Stuff! There is an abundance of “stuff” on the pavement in front of me. The sun shines in a soft pre-morning way on it. I am waiting for Norberto, sometimes referred to as the diver in the Azores, by a steep and winding road in Horta. We have not met since 8 years. Waiting makes me a bit bored and I spend the time viewing, with concerned eyes, all my “stuff” dragged down from the second floor.
My thoughts drift and I visualize an equipment diagram. Where does the curve effort meet the curve benefit equipment-wise and where am I on this diagram?
I shift my thoughts to the other side of that coin and realise how dependent I am as a diver on my regulator and other dive equipment supplying me with gas on every breath. A life support system, for real. I think about all the effort made by so many people to place me in the Azores in front of an amazing sperm whale of the deep. There and then my camera’s shutter must operate accurately on every frame and the lens must perform tack sharp images all the time. No second chance, no moments that can be repeated. In my mind it would be an insult to “the joint effort made” not to use reliable equipment. I sit down on one of the hard cases and take a sip of my coffee. I look at the mountain of equipment again. Instead of hostility I feel warm inside.
A deep voice startles me from behind with a “Hallooo, Magnus!”. I swing around and he looks the same as all those years ago. Deep and vivid eyes, big salty beard, a rugged charisma and a pair of flip-flop shoes. Norberto instantly says: “This is my dog Simba. It is a very nice dog. Let’s go to the marina!” We load everything into his small car and Norberto, myself, his nice dog Simba and all my equipment drive down to the famous harbour of Horta in Faial. It is time for a week of underwater photography around Faial with Norberto.
The marine life in the middle of the Atlantic is not only diverse but also very numerous from the tiniest critters like nudibranchs and ghost shrimps through a versatile fish soup of wrasses, parrotfish, moray eels and pelagics up to the great mammals, rugged reptiles and sleek elasmobranchs that roam this coastline. A busy place and as a photographer it is easy to get overwhelmed and unfocused. My method is to evaluate every subject. Either I skip it or go all the way with it. Simultaneously - I know, I am a man and it sounds unrealistic - my brain should shoot sketch shots of the surroundings, finding new subjects, backgrounds and scenery for coming dives. I am amazed - it worked pretty well!
Marco, Norberto’s divemaster and a skilled diver and spotter, was assigned to be my buddy. Meaning he is the poor guy I will wear out. The week passed very fast for me but I guess it was slightly longer for Marco. He showed me the dynamics of the coastline. A big cave filled with freezing cold water, a shipwreck cluttered with thrilling macro subjects and a gargantuan stingray guarding it. We investigated seamounts in the current, discovered the never ending rocky shoreline and of course we explored, my favorite, the sandy plains. As a photographer I could stay for months and much more.
One day the weather “allowed” us to go for a hidden gem. A place as mystical as far away from Horta. We set out to find the peak of a huge underwater mountain 85 km straight out at sea - the Princess Alice bank! The rocking hours to reach this place quickly disappeared in a haze as I grabbed the anchor line and descended. I passed straight through a dreamy school of game fish. The deeper I got the bigger the amberjacks became. After a couple of minutes I could see the top of this mountain and the amberjacks were over one meter long now. Out of the blue a massive school of barracudas swept by and as this striped curtain moved away the bank was there in front of me.
The water is nice and blue and a bit warmer than closer to Faial. The top of the seamount is at 35 meters and most of the dive is deeper. My limited bottom time is like a whip and I force myself to patience. Firmly I tell myself - Do not stray and do not search! A couple of very bulky stingrays come around and one of them runs me over like a territorial statement. I stay my ground and a short distance away some moray eels are swimming around outside their lairs. Maybe searching for food. These beautiful yellow-patched species are called marbled or Mediterranean moray. I feel a rush of gratitude being here.
I constantly scan the water column above me to see if my main target, the manta or mobula rays, will appear. Already my dive computer is using a bad language at me and with regret I start the long and slow ascent. A big manta ray swims into view as if it knew I was leaving. I swing around to keep my reference, there is the line. Two huge stingrays rise from the rocky seamount and the three rays perform a dazzling dance in the blue. I stay a few extra minutes and clueless to why the benthic stingray mixed with the pelagic manta in the blue I finally make my way up to the boat.
The rest of the day we spend over the seamount looking for devil rays, Mobula tarapacana, to appear close to the surface. The devil ray looks like a manta ray but it is smaller and thinner, growing to a maximum wingspan just over 3 meters. The water is still too cold to get the gathering of Mobulas, according to Norberto. We do a second dive and the same fantastic scenery re-appears but no mantas or devil rays come around.
After two weeks of pelagic free diving in the dynamic blue south of Pico and one week of thrilling scuba diving around Faial it is time to head back home. I leave the Azores worn out, but worn out in the best possible way. Hard drives bulging with RAW files, a heart filled with emotions and an even greater fascination of Azorean reality. The Azores are a Wild Wonder of Europe and let us keep it like that.
In a way personal positive experiences in nature is like a conservation act in itself. Happy memories, affection, compassion and emotional links helps us to make every day decisions in a better direction. So everybody – no matter if it is just outside your doorstep or distant - visit our inspiring European nature as often as you can.
I want to send my big thanks to the crew and management of Wild Wonders who shows knowledge, courage, backbone and passion for the important conversation of European wildlife. I am proud You put trust in my work.
Magnus Lundgren / Wild Wonders of Europe
The Atlantic Ocean covers 20% of the earth’s surface and is the second largest ocean in the world. On average it is the saltiest major ocean with surface water salinity in the open sea ranging from 3.3 to 3.7% by mass. The Coriolis effect circulates the North Atlantic water in a clockwise direction, whereas South Atlantic water circulates counter-clockwise. The Atlantic Ocean appears to be the second youngest of the five oceans. Apparently it did not exist prior to 130 million years ago, when the continents that formed from the breakup of the ancestral super continent, Pangaea, were drifting apart from seafloor spreading.
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.