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The secrets of the Levezzi Islands

by Mark Webster

Reproduced from in focus 66 (October 1999)

Corsica (France)

The news of Jaques Cousteau's death a couple of years ago reminded me, amongst many others I'm sure, of the early developmental years of diving in the Mediterranean. During the 1940's and 50's the Med' was positively teeming with life and for many early divers was the only place to head for to experience warm clear water and colourful marine life. The explosive expansion of the tourist industry in the late 1960's and throughout the 1970's put tremendous pressure on the marine environment through pollution, over fishing and the popularity of spear fishing which led to many coastal diving sites becoming known more for their barren landscape rather than their once profuse marine life Recent years have brought the realisation, some inspired by Cousteou himself, that the preservation of the Mediterranean con only be achieved through proactive measures which have included the establishment of several successful marine conservation reserves.

One of the longest established reserves is that of the Levezzi islands which lie to the south east of the island of Corsica in the straits of Bonifacio, which divide Corsica from Sardinia. The reserve, which includes a section of coastline on Capo Pertusato, was first established thirteen years ago and has been successfully policed by a small team of wardens. The rules exclude commercial fishing, careless anchoring and provide a code of conduct for divers to prevent damage to the marine ecosystems. These restrictions have been remarkably successful and have re-established an area of the Mediterranean to it's former glory. In fact the strength of this success has been recognised by the Italian authorities who have reached agreement with the French government to extend the boundaries of the reserve. This new International Marine Conservation Area (IMCA) will include the Corsican coastline between Bonifacio and Porto-Vechio and part of the northern coast of Sardinia. This new extended reserve was established during 1998 and the number of wardens and patrol craft will be increased in order to police the area effectively.

So what has the area got to offer to the visiting diver? The Levezzi islands themselves are granitic and volcanic in origin and very reminiscent of the Scilly Isles off our own south western coast. The topography of tumbling granite boulders continues offshore dropping off quickly often within a few metres off shore. There are a multitude of small sheltered coves, beaches and cliffs amongst the islands which will provide a lee shore no matter what the weather. depths of 8-30m are found close to the shore where the sea bed boosts huge gullies, tunnels and swim throughs, carpeted in brilliant orange cup corals, anemones, encrusting sponges, sea fans and populated with a wide variety of fish life and invertebrates. Visibility is normally excellent in the shallows and the waters are worm permitting extended dives whilst you search for moray eels, often with their attendant cleaner shrimps, and shy groupers under the overhangs.

The depth increases not far from shore to 20-45m and the topography becomes more massive and spectacular. This is one of the few areas in the Mediterranean that you con be sure of seeing the spectacular red gorgonion (sea fan) corals in depths of only 20-30m which have been commercially harvested so heavily (it other locations. The offshore fish life around the reefs becomes more pelogic with the chance of encountering shoals of barracuda, tuna and the occasional shark.

One particularly memorable dive was at a site named 'Werou Ville' (Grouper Village) where the Mediterranean grouper is decidedly alive and well. We were surrounded by very large and inquisitive fish, who had obviously not experienced spear fishing, which produced some excellent photo' opportunities. Some of this interest in the divers has been propagated by hand feeding, which is actively discouraged, but it is no less flattering and thrilling to experience the attentions of these huge fish despite this. Currents on these offshore sites ore normally gentle, although you will often experience the classic chilly Mediterranean thermocline once you get below 25m or so.
Back on dry land there is plenty to keep you amused if your interests extend beyond the diving offered. Corsica is one of the least-developed Mediterranean islands and has strong French and Italian influences. Most of us may only remember that this island was the birthplace of Napolean Bonaparte, but a little exploration by car reveals a spectacular landscape ranging from Alpine vistas to cliff top fortress towns and classic golden sandy beaches lapped by clear blue water. You are soon immersed in the gentle pace of life within a culture and history that has been influenced and enriched by repeated invasion from almost every great trading nation in the Mediterranean basin. Many of the towns are medieval in origin and offer fascinating exploration of their narrow, winding cobbled streets most of which boast charming cafe's and bistro's offering delicious French cuisine.

So a visit to this alluring island could provide a mixture of alternative activities after a few days diving. Trekking in the mountains, skiing in the spring months, some historical sightseeing or simply soaking up the sun and enjoying the gastronomic fruits of both land and sea.

Reproduced from in focus 66 (October 1999) with kind permission of Mark Webster (http://www.photec.co.uk/)


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