On a lightning dive trip it is very difficult to have a broad idea of how the diving is in a country. More so if we are talking of a country with four islands and dozens of sunken ships (and some yet to be discovered).
Our initial idea of this trip to Malta was to discover some of its most famous dives, talk to some divers we could share dives with, meet a few instructors, dive center owners and find out about some curious stuff that we will talk about later. We knew, as the great Jordi Mateo told us about, that Malta is a great place to get started in technical diving, with interesting wrecks lying between 25 and 100 meters deep. We had also heard of their star dive spots like the Blue Hole, but as 3,000 heads are better than two, we asked on our Facebook fan page for diving experiences in Malta. Some, like Barbara Chamorro (thank you very much again) who had spent a year and half in Malta, let us know about Shark Lab, the NGO running by Greg Nowell who we started our trip in Malta with, and some other people let us know about dive centers and diving spots that we had not heard about before.
There were several myths broken that we had heard before coming to Malta. The first one, and that even the Maltese who work here talk about is «there is no underwater life in Malta». Well, if you compare it to the Indian Ocean or the Coral Triangle then it is true, there is not the same profusion of life that we can find there. But do not forget that Malta is in the Mediterranean Sea, in our exhaust Mediterranean. Having dived with groupers, jacks, moray eels, cuttlefish, octopus, anthias, wrasses, trumpet fish, eels, squids, scorpion fish, maidens, tube worms, soles and Posidonia oceanica is not «little life» for those who often dive in the Mediterranean Sea. If Malta had the same amazing life as that of areas in the Indian Ocean we would certainly be talking about one of the best places in the world to dive (and yet for some divers it is).
Second myth: «Malta is suitable for all diving levels». This is one of the claims made by many places looking to fill a range as wide as possible. It is true that it is a great place to learn to dive: clear calm waters and lots of wildlife with huge offer for learning courses. Yes, Malta is definitely a perfect place to learn to dive. But to really dive in Malta it is recommended to be certified, at least, at equivalent to an Advanced Open Water Diver level (or 2* CMAS). Malta has one of its great attractions in the wrecks… and they are sunk from 25 meters deep. Also diving the most famous dives take you to swim by walls that go down to more that 40-50 meters, so some diving experience is required. Yes, there are simpler and highly recommended dives up to 20 meters deep, but you’ll leave the country without seeing Malta diving.
What will surprise those who have never dive in these islands is its amazing visibility, considering, again, that we’re in the Mediterranean. Having been there in October we had up to 40 meters visibility in some dives! The great visibilities, along with good temperatures both in the water and in the surface for 9 months a year, are the greatest assets of Malta for divers.
If we then add the awesome wrecks, walls, the Blue Hole and a rich and interesting culture and cuisine we can say that we are probably talking about the best diving destination in the Mediterranean. Malta is also a country that promotes and cares the diving tourism. They know how much divers can do for the country’s economy and therefore they fuss over divers.
So let’s start this series of articles on our diving chronicle (but not only diving) in Malta.
The first day we were received by the lovely tourism guide Silvia Debono, a true Malta encyclopedia that can talk about wreck diving, the first civilizations that occupied the islands, the Playmobil factory based in Malta or the role of the different industries in the Maltese economy. If you ever need a guide for your trip to Malta do not hesitate, talk to her. After the first night in Mellieha (not really recommended if you are not a diver, as it is a great location to access diving areas and connections but has little to offer otherwise) we set up our gear to meet the next morning with Greg Nowell from Shark Lab and Jacqui Hedley from Ocean Mysteries, our first underwater hosts in Malta.
Although we will dedicate an entire article to Shark Lab, it is a real privilege to meet and dive with Greg, a shark expert who is doing an outstanding job defending the elasmobranchs of the islands, visiting fish markets and schools explaining their importance for all of us. But as I said, you will read about it soon. In this first dive we had the great pleasure of having Jacqui with us as dive guide. She is one of those (few) great instructors and guides who are always keen to teach and that just celebrated the first year of opening of her own dive center after having dived half the world. After the interview with Greg, we headed to Ċirkewwa, which is perfect diving location after we had spent more than a month outside the water, helping us reconnect with the regulator.
Ċirkewwa is a port that is aside the ferries that go to Gozo and Comino (two of the islands of Malta) has on the other side what we might call an underwater park, perfectly bounded. Ċirkewwa has great access and you will note the «divers» signs on the road denoting its permanent use by divers. This area hides some of the most popular dives around Malta, including the P29 and Rozi wrecks and the Madonna & The Arch dive spot. This area is also ideal for diving courses as it has different depth zones with easy access.
When you get to Ċirkewwa, before putting the gear on, let me make you a recommendation. Go up the stairs where the jetty ends and look down at the sea (in fact it is something you should do whenever you go diving). First because it is relaxing, which is what diving is mainly about, and second because you will see a very beautiful Mediterranean Sea, with hundreds of shades of blue and turquoise, probably unlike the Mediterranean you’re used to see. You’ll also see lots of divers and their crazy gadgets in the parking lot. For a moment you’ll think that the bottom will be packed. But once you get in the water you’ll find yourself surprisingly alone thanks to the many diving options in this area. Mid-October, 30 degrees on the surface, 23 degrees in the water and the sun shining. No wonder why we found so many northern European divers around.
First surprise once we started diving: great visibility even on the shore. The second surprise, the Neptune grass meadow was going to kill the first of the myths we talked about… although it is true that the abundance of seagrass should host more marine life than there actually is, you will find moray eels, damselfish, wrasse, anthias, and even some octopus. Down the grass meadow to 27 meters, guided by the patient Jacqui, we reached a sandy bottom known as «Old Mans Nose» where you can see a little boat that is virtually disintegrated where a moray eel lies. While getting there, it is important to keep an eye on that beautiful deep blue that has accompanied us on this trip.
At 100 bar, flying through the grass meadow, we headed back to the reef but not before making the obligatory visit to the Madonna, a figure of a virgin about 90 cm in size located in a cave 20 meters deep. This point marks the rise. In case you did not know, these waters were addressed by Etruscan, Phoenician, Roman and Greek ships but with a bit of disappointment we found out that the two amphorae you can see in the bottom are not genuine, just an attractions, but beautiful anyway. The reef around the wall to the right offers many hollows and small caves where you will be greeted by some moray eels and where lazy anthias, accustomed to divers, do not even try to hide. We were surprised by the large number and size of fire worms (Hermodice carunculata) we found there, really big. There were also lots of beautiful fried egg jellyfish (Cotylorhiza tuberculata) both alive and dead that we could spot at any time.
After the dive, with the good taste that leaves the regulator in your mouth after a while since the last dive, came a more than pleasant surprise: «Do you guys want to come tomorrow for a night dive here in Ċirkewwa? Think about it and let us know«. Think about it? A night dive with a sharks and rays expert and a lovely dive instructor who after more than 4,000 dives leaves the water with the same emotion as those who are learning to dive? What do we need to think about? We’re in!
The next day we had planned two of the most popular dives in Malta: the Rozi wreck and Anchor Bay. As planned, at 8:30 the always smiling Marko Bezzina arrived. Marko is a charming guide and instructor who runs his own diving center: Bezz Diving. In perfect Spanish we met one of the few Maltese who runs dive centers there and who has also worked in some of the best destinations in the world to come back home after a few years. With that mixed accent between Italian, international Spanish and English that have those who have learned Spanish in different parts of Latin America, he brought us to his dive center, in Mellieha, to make us feel like we had already been there before. There we were lucky to meet some other Spanish divers who have come to the island looking to make a living like David, Alicia, Diego and Dani, who have made friends with Marko, someone who, by the way, we believe is impossible not to be friends with.
With David and Dani, Marko took us back to Ċirkewwa, to get into the Rozi. We remember him saying: «You do not know Malta diving if you do not dive at least one of our wrecks». Already In the water, after Marko’s briefing, we are surprised with an even greater visibility than the previous day. 40 meters of visibility receive us while diving in calm waters, on another sunny day! We spotted the silhouette of the Rozi tens of meters before reaching it, seated on a sandy bottom, growing slowly as we approach.
With enough bottom time to see it quite well, we could meet this 40 meters long tug sunk at a maximum depth of 36 meters for recreational divers. And then we noticed that we are just 5 divers there in this case. Where are the dozens of divers we saw in the parking lot? Again, there are plenty of options in Ċirkewwa. Incidentally, the Rozi also wanted to refute the mantra that «there is no underwater life in Malta». A grouper welcomed us as we get to the prow, jacks attacking a school of small fish, moray eels, conger eels, scorpion fish, wrasse, nudibranchs… No, there is no coral, but the huge visibility provides a beautiful and peaceful diving, great for backlight lovers, with electric blue tones. And yes, also some interesting Mediterranean fauna.
We really could speak more about the Rozi, but no words can describe it better than this video. This is what you will find out when diving in the Rozi… but with even more underwater life.
Finishing the dive we go back through the Posidonia meadow, remembering how necessary it is for the health of our Mediterranean Sea. Next stop, Anchor Bay, known also as Popeye Village… which will be part of the second article of this chronicle you can read next week.