The Cretan underwater world
A large part of Unexplored Crete, and perhaps the most exciting,
is to be found under the surface of the sea! To cross this border
and get to know the beautiful landscapes and the inhabitants
of the deep, all you need is a snorkel, a mask and a pair of
flippers. Of course, if you have a diver’s certificate,
you can rent full scuba-diving equipment and explore the underwater
world with much more ease and to a greater depth. If you haven’t
got a diver’s certificate, Crete is the ideal place to
a CMAS one-star certificate, or for a PADI Open Water certificate
you need 25-30 hours of lessons (6-8’ days). All you need
is to be in good physical condition and of course to pay the
required fees - the diving centre takes care of everything else.
The diving centres in Crete that organise diving excursions,
and offer educational seminars are the following:
Very many types of fish live in the seas off Crete. Atherina
(smelt), gavros (anchovies) and sardines are small fish which
live near the surface and move in shoals. You will often encounter
them swimming in big shoals near the
rocks on the shore.
If you see the shoal scattering in panic, it is probably being
attacked by a zargana (garpike), a fairly small predator fish
that swims near the surface; it has a lance-shaped body and
a nose like a miniature swordfish, which you will also meet
near the rocks on the shore.
If you go out further to somewhat deeper water near to a promontory,
or above a shallow reef under which the water is very deep,
you may encounter surface fish like the kephalos (grey mullet),
a torpedo that moves in small shoals of 10-20 fish, or the gopes
(bogue), a very common species forming large slow-moving shoals
that are difficult to approach.
If you are quite observant, you will notice, in the middle
of the reef, at a depth of 5-15 metres, both large and small
shoals of melanouria (saddled bream), with the characteristic
black ring around the base of their tail - looking motionless
and indifferent to what is going on around them.
If, however, a shoal of synagrides (dentex) appears from the
deep, then they disappear in fright under the nearest rock.
Synagrides are the queens of the deep, with their impressive
colours and noble structure but they have sharp teeth that give
away their predatory nature. They go around in small shoals
of 5-20 and you will rarely be fortunate enough to see them
hunting in the shallows.
An even rarer sight is a shoal of magiatika, large migrant
fish with a hydrodynamic structure and a shimmering silver colour
which appear in the waters of this country at the beginning
of spring and stay until the summer. Sometimes they can be more
than 50 kilos!
Fish like tuna and swordfish live and hunt for their food
in much deeper waters in the middle of the open sea; these are
big migrant fish that have used the same passages for centuries.
Large fish like fagria (sea-bream)
and lithrinia (common pandora) live in deep water, more than
50 metres down, in the so-called “benches” (flat
areas of the deep with many rocks and seaweed).
If you find yourself above a reef or in rocks near the shore
which shelve down smoothly to 15-20 metres, forming caves and
as quickly as you can and observe the depths carefully to get
to know the fish that prefer to live among underwater rocks.
If you are lucky (and quite observant), you will see the squat
rofos(dusky grouper), the king of rockfish, motionless in front
of his hole looking at you with seeming indifference, moving
his side fins slowly. But as soon as you go to dive to get near
him, he will turn slowly and slip back into his rest, with the
calmness and dignity of a king who is, alas, forced to retreat.
If you can hold your breath under the water even if only for
20-30 seconds and you know how to equalise the pressure in your
ears so as to avoid the painful water pressure, try to notice
an underwater dive to a depth where you feel comfortable. Hold
on to the underwater rocks and look carefully into the inside
of the crevices. If you are lucky, you will see the silver figures
made by a shoal of sargos (white sea bream) which sway slowly
in the depths of the crevice, some isolated tsipoura (gilt-head
sea bream), the golden-yellow reflections of a shoal of sikios,
or the antennae and armoured body of a lobster.
Outside of the rocks, you will certainly see cheiloudes (wrasse),
perkes (painted comber), skorpios and many multi-coloured small
fish eating tiny morsels of food, and clouds of black microscopic
fish (called nuns because of their very black colour) staying
suspended near the underwater rocks. You might even see a pair
of barbounia (red mullet) searching the waters with their moustaches,
a pair of multi-coloured skaros (peacock wrasse) going for a
stroll like well-dressed, made-up ladies, or a shoal of mourmoures
(striped sea bream) sinking their noses into the sand looking
for their favourite worms.
Unfortunately, this undersea paradise is threatened by the
continually increasing pollution that comes from industrial
refuse, ships, oil slicks, pesticides which end up in the sea
and much besides. It is also threatened by the overfishing that
results from the use of methods which are destructive to the
marine environment, like trailing underwater nets.
In Greece especially, very great damage is caused to marine
life by illegal fishermen who use dynamite, and illegal amateur
fishermen (mainly Greeks but also many Italian tourists) who
fish with scuba diving equipment day and night. Unfortunately,
the picturesque Kalymnos island sponge-divers cause significant
damage -they have been more or less out of work since the time
the artificial sponge was discovered. For social security reasons,
the Greek state has granted them professional fishing licenses
and since then, this small professional class has been turned
into exterminators of underwater life, using professional automatic
scuba diving equipment and spear-guns.
The harbour authorities make great efforts to enforce the
law, but the means at their disposal are insufficient. But,
the law on illegal fishing is strict, is enforced without exceptions
and provides for confiscation of vessels and all the equipment
used in illegal fishing.
While we’re on the subject of spear-guns, Greek law
lays down certain limits and prohibitions which you must certainly
respect, otherwise you’re in danger of getting into trouble.
Spear-guns are strictly prohibited as follows: before sunrise
and after sunset; used in conjunction with scuba diving equipment;
inside harbours or close to organised beaches; used in conjunction
with chemical substances of any type whatsoever; and during
the month of May, when fish reproduce. You can catch up to five
kilos of fish a day per person, or one big fish a day per person,
regardless of weight. It is also most strictly forbidden to
sell the fish you catch. If you are caught, you will be charged
with a serious breach of the contraband law and, apart from
having your equipment confiscated and being fined, you are also
in danger of being sent to prison for some months. Finally for
your own safety, never go underwater fishing alone, especially
if you are an experienced deep-sea diver. The seas around Crete
are full of big fish where the water is very deep (20-30 metres)
and it will certainly tempt you into doing deep dives; so it
is a good thing to have someone equally experienced near you,
and to look after each other. Every summer, at least five spear-gunners
drown in Cretan waters. Most of them are experienced, but they
go fishing alone...
Very few species dangerous to man live in Greek seas. Few
sharks, usually following ships coming from tropical waters,
have been sighted near the shores, and so far, there has been
only one shark attack on a swimmer (in Pagasitikos gulf, central
Greece). Other dangerous sea creatures are moray-eels (so don’t
put your hand into dark crevices), jellyfish, which cause a
sharp pain in the area where they sting you, drakenes (small
sand- burrowing fish with a poisonous spike on their back that
stings bitterly if stepped on), and sea-urchins, whose spikes
break off in your body. Of all these, the ones to be most careful
of are the sea-urchins because they are everywhere (except on
the sand), and if you step or sit on them, their spikes will
sink into you and only a doctor will be able to get them out
|Source of the
information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”,
Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of
Greece, click here.