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Linda Pitkin - Lavezzi Islands

September 26th, 2008 Posted in Southern Europe, Uncategorized

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Saturday 13 September

Above Bonifacio in southern Corsica, on the exposed coastal path, the wind nearly strips me of my T-shirt and tries to buffet me off my feet. It is just as well we were not expecting to dive today! I arrived a day early, with my husband and dive buddy Brian, to catch our dive boat before it leaves for the Lavezzi Islands.  Hopefully conditions will be better tomorrow when my mission starts in earnest. As an underwater photographer, my opportunities will be limited to the dives the boat can offer, and the dive times will be about an hour depending on the depth and how my air lasts, but I intend to make the most of every minute.

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Dusky Grouper (Epinephelus marginatus) at ‘Merouville’ in the Lavezzi Islands. This fish has several parasitic copepods (fish lice) on its head.

Mission Day 1
Our boat ‘Galiote’ waits out the morning in the calm of the harbour, for the three-metre waves and “white horses” to subside. In the afternoon we cross to the Lavezzi Islands and get in the water at last, in a calm bay where Günther, captain of the Galiote for 28 years, knows we will see the dusky groupers I am after for my mission. I have dived nearly all over the world but this is my first time diving in the Mediterranean and the whole trip is a big adventure. We dive, swimming slowly over the bed of sea grass and round the rocks, and for a while my heart sinks as I see nothing else, but then our hopes are raised. We spy a grouper in a crevice between some boulders, and another appears. They are a little timid at first but soon they seem to take an interest and start to follow us. These are large groupers, about 2 feet in length and heavy-bodied, so I am able to use my favourite lens, a 10-17 zoom. By the end of the dive I have got some images to build on, although the water is not as clear as I would like - the windy weather has stirred up particles of sand. The Galiote moves into the next bay while we are diving and most of the divers swim round to end their dive at the boat. Photographers are not at all like ordinary divers though, we stay in one spot for ages, especially if the subjects are cooperative and the shots are going well. So when we surface we have not reached the bay and cannot see the boat. Eventually Günther picks us and another photographer up. We are living on the Galiote and it moors in this same bay for the night. Most of the divers and crew are German, which is a little confusing as I have been trying to practise some French and now I am struggling to recall a few words of German; not that I need to as most speak fluent English.

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A school of Striped Barracuda (Sphyraena viridensis).

Day 2
We dive at Perduto, a site where we hope to see barracudas, and by luck we head to the spot on the reef where they are. They are in the only still patch of water, all around are raging currents and we use a lot of air struggling to get along the reef, also I scrape my fingers clutching the rocks to stop myself being swept away. There is one other serious photographer among the divers on board but he decided not to take his camera on this dive because of the current. For me a dive without my camera is unimaginable, even in difficult conditions. The barracudas are in a school of 50-100, spread out a bit but still an impressive sight, and I work quickly to capture some pictures in the few minutes before we must head back towards the boat to end the dive. Even so, we can’t make it to the anchor line and, although we are near the boat, we drift away fast all the way up to the surface. Luckily we are seen and they send the small zodiac (tender for the Galiote) to pick us up. It is all worth it to have such an exciting encounter in the Mediterranean.
I had hoped we would dive next at Lavezzi’s famous site, Merouville (Grouper City), but there is likely to be current there so we dive in the same bay as the previous afternoon. This time we wait for 40 minutes before a dusky grouper comes close, although two are hiding well under the rocks. The grouper gets bolder as the dive time runs out and follows us back to the anchor line of our boat.

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A violet nudibranch or sea slug (Flabellina affinis) feeding on hydroids.

Day 3
We could dive at Merouville but another boat is heading there with 40 divers on board. We don‘t want a sea of legs in the pictures so instead we dive at Horsehead, a scenic site named after the shape of an impressive tall pinnacle there. In the afternoon my hopes for Merouville are dashed again, as often happens around these exposed islands, wind has whipped up the sea and we go to dive at a calm site, shallower than in the morning. Above the water, the Lavezzi islands are a jumble of huge, smoothly rounded, boulders; underwater the scene is similar except that the rocks are encrusted with colorful sponges and zoanthid anemones.

Day 4
We wake to a beautiful calm sunny day but get off to a terrible start! There is very strong current on the surface and even though there is a rope that we can use to drag ourselves along, hand over hand to the dive site, we are unable to make it there with our bulky housed cameras and flashes (Nikon D80 in a Sea & Sea housing), and we abandon the dive. I am so disappointed…  Luckily the next dive gives me at last what I had been hoping for - a good encounter with the big groupers at Merouville. The groupers are wonderful, they greet Günther like an old friend, and then hang around us like amiable dogs. There is very little current there and the session goes well. I spend much of the dive at 25-30 metres depth and after 30 minutes or so I need to leave the groupers (reluctantly) and decompress for several minutes before surfacing. We have two days left on the boat so there will be chance for more, I hope.


Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.

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  1. 3 Responses to “Linda Pitkin - Lavezzi Islands”

  2. By Thomas on Sep 28, 2008

    Stunning details…We can see right to the end of the gut of this fish…

  3. By Patricia and Karlheinz on Oct 9, 2008

    Dear Linda, very well done!!!
    You described it as it really was, a big exciting adventure!
    It was a great pleasure and honor for us to dive with you and met you and Brian on this especially dive trip.
    Lovely greetings from Germany…

  4. By Cresta Scuba Diving Centre Malta on Jan 1, 2010

    Great article and pics.

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