DIVING at Lazzaro and Capo dell'Armi
Lazzaro and Capo dell’Armi
The story of an underwater itinerary by Francesco Turano, written especially for the Greek Calabria site
Francesco Turano is an underwater photographer, a nature illustrator, underwater guide and author of maps of the seabed and wrecks. The following is his story, and we thank him for the beautiful photographs which we feel we must share with you.
Some authors consider Capo dell’Armi the physical boundary of the Straits of Messina on the southernmost, Calabrian coast. The headland, formerly known as Leucopetra promontorium, is a high spur of rock a little over a hundred metres in height plunging headlong into a cobalt sea, very deep even at only a few steps from the shore. Facing the headland is a shallow shelf that divides the promontory, emerging from a successive escarpment bordering on the sand, a sort of tongue in compact limestone, perpendicular to the coast line, which soon reaches a depth of -50 metres.
The most interesting dives are not only those in the waters around the promontory, but above all, those at Lazzaro, whose waterfront is the departure point for interesting deep-sea explorations of the reefs which follow a route, in some places, parallel to the beach.
There are two itineraries that I usually suggest when speaking about the sea here: one comprises a wider and more imposing circuit than the other and has as its reference point a small bar in a kiosk (the kiosk circuit). The other, known as the Castelluccia, is an excursion which has as its reference point an old refurbished building. In this case too, not only a reef is involved, but also a large cave with a semi-circular opening onto the sea: the Grotta della Castelluccia.
Diving in the sea at Lazzaro is certainly no cakewalk. If we exclude the reef along the shore (whose average depth is between eight and ten metres and only reaches 15/18 metres in the vicinity of the “Il Faro” restaurant) the rocky sea bed lies at a depth of 37/40 metres and, then, after a steep descent through the muddy water and a series of ledges, 70/80 metres, where the mud fades considerably. These extraordinary increases in depth with differences of 8/10 metres, leads us to imposing ledges, marvellous to observe, especially by night. This makes this already difficult diving programme even more challenging because it is necessary to manoeuvre the depths, by night, in cold water and sometimes with the risk of having to deal with counter current during the ascent. This is certainly not easy, nor is it something to be taken lightly. That is why these dives require a lot of experience and are recommended only for highly experienced divers. We must never forget that we are at the boundaries of the Straits of Messina, which, although sheltered most of the time, also experiences unexpected currents. But what has this challenging underwater itinerary to offer to justify such an endeavour? Undeniably, something special, sometimes really special.
The fish at Lazzaro
A very rare and highly unlikely meeting with the deep-water shark, the Oxinothus centrina, is an example of what this sea might offer. Only a few times in my life as an underwater photographer did I have the honour and pleasure of being able to observe this creature in the flesh. And, on two of these occasions, I found myself at the foot of these cliffs, at about 60 metres below the surface, by night, of course. The angular roughshark was there, swimming slowly, moving almost phlegmatically, incredulous and dazed by the light of my torch, not at all willing to be photographed though powerless in the face of the rapid flashes that set him on edge. His sensitive emerald green eyes could not deal with the blinding flashes rending the darkness. That poor fish, how he has had to put up with me during our chance meetings in that bewitching gloomy dark environment. What unforgettable moments, what amazing tranches de vie …
But nowadays, this shark is not seen here very often, whereas once it was normal to see it swim by night at these depths, among two-banded and white breams dozing on the sea bed, with oblades and enormous sea basses. Now and then, you might come across the odd, beautiful red scorpion fish and the sinuous corvine catfish out in the open; this cave-dwelling fish, aided by the darkness he is so fond of, used to calmly accept being observed, even photographed. Viewing these fish was really great, and those fifteen/twenty minutes of air, at most, that I allowed myself, because of the depth, seemed like a mere handful of seconds, though particularly intense. But what I sought when diving in that sea I respected and feared so much, was the sparida par excellence: the majestic sea bream, so beautiful to watch at close quarters and with which, even today, I still hope to have a close encounter.
Nowadays nighttime diving in those waters is no longer the same for a number of reasons, including I am sorry to say, the bad practice of some “mentally deficient” (allow me the term …) divers. This involves shooting fish with an air rifle, by night, not allowing the fish to dwell in tranquility on the seabed. However, with propitious days and during the winter, you can still enjoy a pleasant experience and encounter something, despite everything
When, at night, you take a last look at the lighthouse’s alternating beam from the headland, cutting through the darkness, indicating the land to sailors and shining on the surface of the water and then deflate your BCD, allowing yourself to sink down into the sea’s unknown, you know that a new adventure begins every time, a dive into an element to which you do not belong and where every encounter is astounding. As soon as you direct your torch to light something up, you trigger off your curiosity, your thirst for discovery. As you descend along the sandy slope to reach the reef, which you begin to see only at a depth of about forty metres, you continue downwards for a stretch, the light pointing before you in anxious anticipation of some rocky outline, some reference-point or other. When you reach the sea bed, you settle and begin your exploration and, when possible, your picture-taking, with your camera equipment all set up.
Nocturnal diving in the sea at Capo dell’Armi means keeping the reef on your left on the way down, until you reach maximum depth; on the right as you return and when not too far below the surface, always moving more or less parallel to the shore. The rock is covered in sponge and tunicate, echinoderm and bryozoan, populated by small crustaceans, mollusks, sponges, annelids, and you suffer all the time, aware that you have no time to linger to look at little things, because you’re expecting “more important encounters”. There are very few horizontal crevices in the big rock walls and vertical ones are even fewer. But when you see a red snapper asleep, motionless in front of you, your finger pushes down the button and the flash is reflected on a livery that no words can describe, it is so beautiful. The angry look from that fish with long canines is unequivocal: the red snapper wants to be left in peace. How many night have I spent in these environments and how many extraordinary adventures have I had. But above all, those snappers. I remember once the enormous amount of snappers spotted in one dive, in the company of a close friend (here one dives in pairs, at most in threes).
They were resting as usual, their stomachs touching the sand on the floor of the sea, seemingly still. I approached, I took one photo, then saw the fish begin to move; usually the snapper’s nervousness, as he is stunned by the light. builds up gradually and so you have enough time to take a second snapshot, maybe even a third one, before the beast (these fish weight from three to seven / eight kilos) rises and takes off into the unknown. Only once I was fortunate to see the snapper with his back towards me and I took a memorable three quarters picture with the fish and muzzle facing the lens. A photo taken in an instant. Photos need to be dynamic t to grasp that fleeting moment, specifically that hostile expression on the fish’s face, a picture that freezes in an instant indelible memories and the essence of those encounters between man and fish. If the red snapper feels safe in an enclosed environment, its time in front of the underwater camera may be very long. That evening there were snappers everywhere. A dream!
I cannot finish writing about these places without mentioning the cave facing “La Castelluccia”, where one night I saw the largest red snapper I ever met in all my life. Like the entrance to a motorway tunnel, this cave, its mouth facing the sea, lies at about minus fifty metres and marks the beginning of one of the area’s reefs, though not so tall or imposing as some, is more varied and cadenced and with some stretches too deep to permit breath-hold diving. The cave is easy to reach, as long as one is experienced enough to deal with this kind of diving, where depth and the submerged entrance are factors that make this experience different from others. With a good source of artificial light, and after the small delay required to adapt to the darkness upon entry, you follow the perimeter of an immense stone hall, the roof of which is covered in living forms of all kinds. The bottom is in mud of the worst kind and you sink like in quicksand. This mud and the environment, however, are the ideal habitat for families of croakers and endless swarms of beautiful, red prawns. The scenery is breathtaking and I still remember the first time I saw this cave full of croakers surrounded by red shrimps and disturbed by the odd conger eel, the large moray or puffy musdee with its long mustache. What can one say? It is difficult to take photographs. Simple observation is somewhat easier. Enjoyment is the privilege for those who practice deep sea diving. On the roof of the cave there is a splendid gorgonian branch of the Lophogorgia genre, all yellow, and all around there is a feast of pink damselfish. There are numerous large orange five-pointed starfish and the grayish mud highlights the colours of the fish and invertebrates. In the cave, once, I even came across a fish laying eggs held together by a gelatinous tape, although croakers and shrimp are the highlight of this venue. A tour inside allows us to go all the way to the end of the grand cave, two or three at a time, and divers have to be familiar with muddy beds (it is forbidden to raise suspended matter), but without visiting the smaller secondary cavities, man-sized and very dangerous, where we see croakers vanish like ghosts, though the prawns are always plentiful and willing to satisfy the unbridled curiosity of divers seeking enjoyment.
Membro del Gravity Zero Diving Team, è fotografo subacqueo, illustratore naturalista, accompagnatore subacqueo e autore di mappe dei fondali marini e dei relitti. Ha iniziato a fotografare sott’acqua in Mediterraneo nel 1984, e dall’inizio degli anni novanta le sue immagini e i suoi disegni sono apparsi su riviste (Oasis, Bell’Italia, Aqva, Sub, Il Subacqueo e molte altre), libri ed enciclopedie e sono state premiate in numerosi concorsi fotografici di prestigio (tra cui anche il Festival di Antibes). Socio di associazioni culturali e promotore di iniziative legate sempre alla salvaguardia del territorio e alla difesa del mare, ha organizzato manifestazioni ed eventi, mostre fotografiche e curato corsi di fotografia naturalistica. Ha inoltre svolto più volte un ruolo importante, in qualità di esperto, nel contesto di molti progetti di educazione ambientale. Da fotoreporter naturalista ha scritto numerosi articoli di biologia marina e turismo naturalistico, collaborando stabilmente con Sublandia e occasionalmente con altri siti e portali internet. Autore di numerose pubblicazioni, tra cui “Viaggio in fondo allo Stretto”, “Sott’acqua in Mediterraneo” con Gianni Neto, “Enciclopedia Illustrata degli Invertebrati Marini” con Francesco Costa, e “Calabria, Mediterrane o sconosciuto” (grande volume fotografico), dedica molte ore all’anno all’osservazione diretta e alla ripresa, in ogni condizione, della fauna marina mediterranea; in 25 anni di intensa attività ha realizzato un archivio con oltre 50.000 immagini (diapositive) subacquee relative al solo Mediterraneo (oltre le foto realizzate in altri mari), ed è partito con l’archivio digitale che vanta già diverse migliaia di scatti. Per fotografare ha utilizzato sia il sistema Nikonos, del quale è stato sostenitore, sia diversi scafandri (prima Pentax LX in custodia Aquatica e poi Nikon F4 in custodia Nexus). Attualmente utilizza reflex Fuji S5 in custodia Sea&Sea, dopo aver fatto una serie di prove, mentre all’asciutto il sistema Nikon. Ha disegnato una gran quantità di fondali e punti d’immersione del Mediterraneo per conto di diversi diving center, fornendo validi supporti per il turismo subacqueo. Mentre sono in preparazione altri libri legati al mare, l’autore è impegnato in nuovi progetti di educazione all’ambiente e in un costante monitoraggio dei fondali e degli ambienti sommersi del Mediterraneo in generale e dello Stretto di Messina in particolare. Il suo lavoro è oggi fotografia, disegno, editoria, escursioni, immersioni guidate ed ecoartigianato; il tutto condensato in una libera professione che ha come riferimento lo studio “Fotografando”, a Reggio Calabria (www.francescoturano.it).