“Beyond the Surface: Unveiling Malta and Gozo Coral Treasures”
Having been born on an island in the centre of the Mediterranean, I always had the sea in my blood. It is my lifeline, as it is in all of us born in Malta.
Boyhood and Books from Malta and Gozo Coral Treasures
From an early age, I was a habitual bookworm, reading everything that was readable. With a childhood spent in England from the age of eight onwards, there were many late winter nights spent propped up in bed reading seafaring tales. I engrossed myself in “The Coral Island”, “Robinson Crusoe”, “The Swiss Family Robinson” and my all-time favourite, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”, a book I have read a hundred times over.
These late nights were followed by early mornings as I shook off sleepy eyes just a few hours before school, still dreaming of marine adventures, swinging coconut trees, golden sands, and tropical locales.
My most dreaded childhood moments were spent living inland in England, with months passing before I caught a glimpse of the sea and a whiff of its saltiness.
And where does this all lead?
Recently, I came across a news item that left me spellbound and curious about something I had no concept of—red coral found deep in the sea surrounding the Maltese Islands.
Into the Deep
Malta has set a new depth record for finding precious red coral deep in the sea, a result of two separate expeditions as part of a LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project. Underwater robots equipped with video cameras were used to explore the depths and surprised scientists by revealing numerous colonies of precious red coral (Corallium rubrum) growing at depths of more than one kilometre—200 metres deeper than a previous discovery and record, also held by Malta.
The scientific team operated from the NGO Oceana in conjunction with the University of Malta’s Biology Department, which analysed all the collected data. The findings were presented during the 41st Congress of the International Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Mediterranean (CIESM) held in Kiel, Germany.
A university professor, Patrick J. Schembri, explained that red coral colonies are usually found at depths of between 300 and 1,000 metres. Their discovery at depths exceeding one kilometre caused quite a stir.
“This record was a surprise to us all,” said Professor Schembri. “But it goes to show just how little we know about the sea, which surrounds our own islands.”
Underwater Marine Life
There were other surprises too, including the discovery of a fossilised sponge reef at a depth of 300 metres, deep-water caves at 450 metres, as well as a great number of sand and mud habitats inhabited by several marine communities, including some very rare and threatened species.
I knew that red and black coral existed around Mediterranean coastlines, particularly off Tunisia and around Sardinia and Corsica. What I never knew or anticipated was that such corals existed at such depths in Malta.
Thankfully, these depths protected these coral treasures from being pilfered by divers.
Another scientific paper published by Marine Biodiversity Records, co-authored by Maltese marine biologist Alan Deidun, revealed other details previously unknown to me.
Information compiled mostly from various writings and interviews with Maltese fishermen and former directors of the Mediterranean Coral Fishing Company shows how more than a ton of red coral and more than 250 kilograms of black coral were taken from Maltese coastal waters between 1984 and 1987.
Apparently, before a clampdown, there was also an active smuggling trade of red and black coral lifted illicitly from Malta and illegally exported.
But then that’s always been the characteristic of our small islands, whether it is coral, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, or whatever.
Deep Sea Underwater Diving
Find Your Seafaring Adventure
Malta and Gozo (and Comino between them) are so small, the deep blue Mediterranean Sea is merely a stone’s throw from anywhere. The Islands are a haven and a bonanza for sea lovers of all kinds including swimmers, divers, deep sea divers, cliff divers, sailors, and adventure seekers.
For those who love the sea as I do, there are companies plenty of companies that cater to seafaring adventures, including dive excursions, round-the-islands sailing excursions, day fishing trips, and boat hires to name a few.
Marine wrecks are another dimension, which might appeal to divers. The sea floors around the islands are a bounty of sunken statues, boats, and planes that go back to the Phoenicians, the Romans and the two World Wars. For these, head to the northern and southern shores of the islands, particularly Xlendi Bay in Gozo and the channel between Malta and Gozo.
With that, I leave you to follow in the path of young Jack Hawkins, Ben Gunn, and Long John Silver and his sidekick parrot squawking, “Pieces of Eight, Pieces of Eight”, still living in my active memories of the beloved “Treasure Island” of my boyhood.
A red and black coral display
“When it arrives – open the door and let it in.”
Useless to ward off the inevitable – it will happen anyway.
BeSeeingYou In: (Malta’s marine wonders)
Good To Know: (Good availabilities for all marine lovers)
WOW Factor: (The surprising wonders of the Med)
TIP: (Marine seek and ye shall discover!)
Author bio: Albert Fenech
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