She’s Isabel - at least I call her so. Others call her Terry the Turtle but I personally feel Isabel is more suited to her beauty and grace. She’s a loggerhead turtle and a big one. Probably brought to our shores here in Tenerife by a late summer storm, found a haven on a small wreck, shares her abode with several morays (green, yellow, ‘pintadas’, ‘negras’), an octopus, huge trumpetfish and a virtual cloud of smaller fish. Isabel is used to our company, can hear the zodiac, waits for the anchor to drop and then sends out her escort, a whole troop of rays, to guide the ‘bubblemakers’ to her kingdom.
She winks for the cameraman, tugs at my fins, regally accepts a sardine or two as homage to her beauty. Diving with Isabel is a unique experience, she’ll get into your blood and you’ll want to repeat the experience over and over again. 36 minutes at 20 metres will cost you a good 20 or more hours of saturation but every second of it is worth it.
I think I’m falling in love (so does my partner: she keeps pointing out that Isabel is a reptile!) I long for the next booking that will allow me to descend once more and meet my Isabel, to cavort surrounded by friendly rays and curious ‘fulas’, weightless and smiling throughout the dive. You’ve got to visit El Acuario (the aquarium) in South Tenerife to believe it. Take my word! Andy Palmas
At this new depth, we can already notice a difference. The fish seem to get bigger and more diverse in shape. A comical-looking trumpetfish expertly stalks a small shoal of fry. Closing the distance with agonising slowness, it suddenly darts forward and makes short work of its prey.
We drop down onto the final step, reaching our maximum depth. Looking back up, you can't help thinking how much these shelves resemble a giant's staircase.
We approach the first cavern and enter slowly, marvelling at this volcanic grotto. Inside the water is cool and clear, inspiring a sense of safety. Our lights reveal a bed of sea urchins whose spines bristle and wave, daring us to lose buoyancy control. Glass-eyes stare at us nervously, wondering who are these clumsy intruders into their realm. Soldier fish dart sporadically from crevice to crevice like tiny orange shooting stars.
Exiting the cavern at the other end is like being re-born - going from the dark into the light. We find ourselves enveloped in a melee of fins, scales and eyes as we approach a huge shoal of grunts whose numbers must near a thousand. Above them the silvery shadow of a lone hunter hangs motionless. The barracuda waits patiently for a weak or dying fish to separate from the shoal.
A few fin-kicks later, we find another predator, barely visible in its sand patch. As we approach the angel shark it shakes off its mantle of sand and gracefully glides down over a ledge and, sadly, out of sight. We search through boulders and overhangs, finding arrow crabs and sea cucumbers. We watch as cleaner-shrimp pick clean moray eels safely in their symbiotic relationship
At the end of the dive we reach another grotto, this one with three openings. Entering one, you see light streaming in through both the skylight and bottom opening. Dramatic silhouettes of large trumpetfish and glass-eyes are formed against the light. We rise up through the skylight into shallower depths for our return to the boat. Again, the wrasse and damsel fish greet us, as if providing an escort.
All too soon it is over. Back in a boat full of smiles in the warm sunlight, we are left with just our memories &. and the knowledge that we can do this dive again whenever we want.
Austin Wainwright May 2000
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