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Who said the Med. is dead?

Corsica's 'Rendez-vous de l'Emotion' underwater photographic competition

by Mark Webster

Reproduced from in focus 56 (January 1996)

Corsica (France)

In recent years diving in the Mediterranean has endured some bad press due to the all too obvious results of pollution and enthusiasm for spear fishing. Although there are undoubtedly still many sites almost devoid of life, there are certain areas where a very active effort is being made to turn the tide and re-establish and preserve the naturally abundant marine life. Spear fishing is now not so prevalent as it once was and divers are being encouraged to look at the alternative of stalking their prey with a camera, which requires both the same skill and patience. In order to promote this activity there are now a whole crop of annual photo~sub and fish photo-hunt competitions in France, Italy, Spain and Malta. I was recently invited to visit Corsica to compete in one of the longest established photo-subs, entitled 'Les Rendez-vous de l'Ernotion', which was to be held in the marine reserve of the Levezzi Islands and was stunned by what I found.

Having not visited Corsica before, the most I could recall about the island was that Napoleon Bonaparte had been born here in the town of Ajaccio. Corsica is in fact one of the least developed of the Mediterranean islands and has a spectacular landscape ranging from Alpine vistas to cliff top fortress towns and classic golden sandy beaches lapped by clear blue water. A two hour flight from London immerses you in a 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. There are a number of diving centres around the coast of the island, but my visit was to be centred on Club Atoll which is located in the medieval citadel of Bonifacio on the southern tip of Corsica. The centre offers more than just diving as the facilities include a most attractive villa style hotel with terrace restaurant, bar, swimming pool and even a dive shop.

Accommodation is in studio apartments in the gardens which can provide for families, club groups couples or individuals. You can also learn to dive here as the centre is certified by PADI, BSAC and CMAS (children can also learn to dive here) or perhaps indulge in a speciality course such as underwater photography. Daily diving is from a hard boat which is fully equipped with numerous full sets of Scubapro diving equipment, so you could choose to travel very light.

The dive sites are predominantly in the area adjacent to Bonifacio and around the Levezzi islands themselves which lie in the straits of Bonifacio between Corsica's southern coast and the north coast of Sardinia, and are only 40 minutes away aboard the dive boat. A typical week's diving here will comprise a mixture of 'two dive' days, with the boat returning to port for lunch after the first dive, and safari days where a bar-b-que lunch is served on the boat or on one of the attractive beaches found on the Leyezzi islands. Most of the sites feature huge boulders, drop offs, caves and fields of eel grass in the shallows, all of which provide a habitat for a diverse variety of marine life.

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. This site also boasted an profusion of red coral in only 25m, which has become a rarity elsewhere, and an abundance of morays and octopus. The shallower sites also support the more common orange sea fans, swathes of cup corals and anemones under the overhangs, shoals of fish and enough macro life to keep the average photographer happy for weeks!

The competition itself attracted a total of fifteen photographers from France, Belgium and England. The rules allowed us one day of reconnaissance and preparation followed by one day of competition with the final day reserved for judging and presentations. We were allocated two films to expose in seven hours from which we had to present a portfolio of six slides. The theme of the competition is *Les rendez-vous de Pemotion' (literally: the meeting with emotion) and could be interpreted in any way the photographer wished. Many of the photographers had brought models with them and as I was on my own I viewed my opponents with a little trepidation to begin with. The judging panel included artists, underwater photographers and diving journalists, so it was very difficult to guess the type of image they would favour.

The day of the competition dawned calm and sunny, which was a relief to the organisers and competitors alike, as late in the season the likelihood of strong mistral winds increases. Some of these photo-sub events are very intense and even stressful when some teams feel national pride is at stake. However, a distinctly relaxed and friendly atmosphere prevailed throughout the day of competition, with many photographers discussing their problems and what they had seen and photographed. This camaraderie and loosening of tongues may of course have been induced by the wine served with lunchll However, the competitors were no less determined and the activity was periodically frantic as photographers and their models tried to squeeze in four and five dives in search of the winning shots.

The evening then brings that nail biting wait for the films to be returned, which is either followed by personal elation or total despondence dependant on your results - many of the photographers considered this to be their true 'rendez-vous de l'ernotion'! Although my shots lacked the inclusion of a diver I was reasonably happy with the varied portfolio I had compiled.

The winning portfolios and slides were as varied as the judging panel and it was easy to see that everybody views the emotion experienced in diving in many diverse ways. The event was a tremendous success and very enjoyable and I have now come to appreciate that there are still areas in the Mediterranean which can rival tropical sites around the globe. Additionally, my own results have spurred me on with plans for next year when I should be accompanied by a model!


Portfolio Category (six slides)

First: Marc DeBatty, France
Second: Mark Webster, England

Individual Slide Category

First: Marc DeBatty, France
Second: Christiane DeBatty, France
Third: Jean de Bremaeker, Belgium
Fourth: Alain Maniette, France
Fifth: Jean Louis Ferret,i France
Sixth: Mark Webster, England

Further Information

Club Atoll Diving Centre
Hotel Kelea
Cavallo Morto-BP3
20169 Bonifacio

Corsican Places
Rutherford Business Park
Marley Lane
East Sussex

Reproduced from in focus 56 (January 1996) with kind permission of Mark Webster

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