Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sprats

Angus Watson on British snorkelling at the FT:
We flipper-kick slowly through stage one of the trail, the Japanese Seaweed Garden. Vibrant blue snakelock anemones and seaweeds in various greens swirl in unison, anchored on purple algae-encrusted rocks (touch the anemones’ fronds – it doesn’t hurt but you can feel the stickiness that traps little fish). Rainbow-patterned male corkwing wrasses, colourful as any reef fish, flit about, eyeing us nervously. Pity the male corkwing wrasse – he weaves an ingenious seaweed nest each spring, then floats hopefully nearby. Female corkwings approach, lay eggs if the nest passes muster, then head off for another year, leaving the hapless male to fertilise the eggs and bring up their sprats alone.

“Sea hare!” Thatcher cries, breaking my reverie. There are, in fact, two, making love three feet below us. Sea hares are black, the size of a small Cornish pasty, with antenna-sprouting heads and flowingly skirted bodies – like snails crossed with flamenco dancers. I’ve seen similar things before, in pink, but that was in Indonesia, not Dorset.

The fun continues. As we cling to a chunk of rock, blennies come to peer at us as anemone fish might in warmer seas. Large orange edible crabs run from miniature caves into seaweed copses and back again, waving claws aggressively. One tiny electric blue fish loiters a foot from the surface in a non-committal pose. It is about one metre deep all the way and sunny, so the water is brilliantly clear. At high water on the springiest of spring tides, Kimmeridge is never more than 3.5m deep. The bay is essentially one big rock-pool. It’s not as good as the world’s top dive sites, of course, but I reckon it’s on a par with Malta, which is meant to be the best in the Med.

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