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Catalan diving

by Robert Dinwiddie

Reproduced from in focus 11 (Aug. 1985)


Bored with British waters but unable to afford the Red Sea? One possibility that might be worth considering is the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Not the Costa del Sol, but the area just to the south of the French-Spanish border i.e. Catalonia. During last summer Ispent four months working at a dive centre in this area and (though I have no competition winning slides to prove it) was much impressed by the marine life and underwater photographic opportunities, particularly for close-up photography.

This is a rugged, mountainous region with a rocky. much indented coastline. Good diving is possible either by hard boat or inflatable or by shore diving in the numerous creeks and inlets. There are virtually no tides or currents to worry about, and underwater visibility ranges from 15-30M - not brilliant, but much better than average British waters.

Below the surface, the rocks fall quite steeply down to about 30M, then more gently to 60M and beyond. Invertebrate marine life is particularly abundant and varied on the drop offs, and includes several types of soft coral and gorgonians, tube worms with huge cream coloured whorls of tentacles, all sorts of brightly coloured anemones, sponges, tunicates and starfish, and two or three very pretty species of Nudibranch. There were also a number of octopus, and from time to time, an invasion of multi-coloured jellyfish - poisonous but photogenic. Fish species were less spectacular but included numerous bright red scorpion fish and the odd angler. moray, conger and grouper. Nearer the surface a cheeky little wrasse species that I must have spent hours trying to temp between the probes of my close up lens! All in all, not at all bad for medium to close up photography.

Opportunities for wide-angle or available light photography are fewer. There is little in the way of wrecks, sharks, rays etc or really outstanding scenery. although one could take endless shots of divers on drop offs. One dive site that I could recommend strongly for wide-angle photography are the isles of Medas near Estartit. Underwater these are riddled with tunnels and deep caves and can provide some very stimulating diving. I was fortunate to dive this site with a well organised group of French divers. The dive involved a swim through a 150M long tunnell about the same bore as the Piccadilly line. which went straight through one of the islands at 30M. From the roof of the tunnel there were lots of narrow chimneys, from which one could eventually emerge into a rock pool in the middle of the island. Later we penetrated some 50M into a cave, emerging at the closed end of an air filled chamber entirely enclosed in rock. We also had an interesting encounter with a huge congar eel.

When you are involved in a group dive of this type, there are good opportunities for wide-angle shots of divers, bubbles. light effects from torches etc., all sihouetted against the outline of the tunnel or cave entrance. Don't forget, however, that in these situations you will need some artificial light - perhaps a torch strapped to your head - in order to read your light meter, adjust your focussing and etc. I made the rather elementary mistake of entrusting all lighting responsibilities to my buddy! Also make sure your vantage point is taken up well in advance of the rest of the group! This type of diving requires more than the usual foresight and planning, both from the photographic and safety point of view.

Perhaps the best way of diving this area of Spain would be to drive out there in a small group (about 15 hours from Calais), taking an inflatable and engine (though shore diving provides plenty of scope for photography). There are a number of dive centres offering hardboat diving. but I would not particularly recommend these to photographersq except as a source of information and air. The largest centre is at the Club Mediterranee village near Cadaques (where I worked). This is well organised, but all diving is compulsorily in groups of 5 or 6 with a guide. Private browsing around with a camera can be problematic, although there is the occasional organised 'photo dive' and on site processing. Other centres are German, Belgian and British-run, and although I have no first hand experience of these I gathered that again most of the diving is in large groups, and in some cases there is undue pressure to get into and out of the water as quickly as possible.

Organising one's own diving would almost certainly require special clearance from the Spanish authorities, who tend to want to see evidence of diving qualificationsq medical fitness and insurance, but otherwise there should be no particular problems. Incidentally, there is a complete and strictly enforced ban on removing any animal or plant from the sea without a special licence, which must go some way to explaining the abundant marine life.

I should perhaps add a word of warning about the weather in this part of Spain. Although its hot and sunny about half the time, in my experience the rain in Spain falls mainly on the coast (not the plain), and on this particular coast there is also a persistant north westerly wind, known locally as the l,trimontagnell which blows up regularly to about force 7 every ten days or so. Due to the nature of the coast, its always possible to find a dive site even when conditions are a bit off, but its worth packing plenty of warm clothing and an oilskin, as well as the suntan cream. Surface water temperatures are about 22-24°C throughout the summer. nut except in June and July, there's often a sharp thermocline at about 25M, below which things get distinctly chilly.

If any member would like further information on diving in Catalan please contact me. Robert Dinwiddie, .57 Rashleigh House, Thanet Street, London WC1. Tel. 01 388 4638.

Reproduced from in focus 11 (Aug. 1985)

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