Volcanic oceanic islands emerge from the bottom of the ocean floor and grow until they break the surface of the water. Most often than not, only a small part of the volcanic structure is above sea level, and the vast majority of it remains submerged. This means that there are countless geological structures that are open to exploration to scuba divers--that is as long as they remain within recreational scuba depth limits. The UNESCO Global Geopark
of Lanzarote has steep underwater cliffs that are located close to the coast that drop steeply to depths as deep as 200 metres before meeting the shelves that join the different islands
within the Canary Islands archipelago. These depths and their proximity to the coast make Lanzarote an ideal location for freediving events.Lanzarote has a total of 19 designated underwater geosites (sites of geological interest). One of them, the littoral shelf (Geosite LZ48
) just off Puerto del Carmen
is easily accessible to scuba divers as the town is one of the main tourist areas in Lanzarote. There is also a huge selection of licensed dive operators to choose from in the vicinity that provide competent divemasters as well as well-maintained equipment, but unfortunately not much information regarding the geology and the history of the volcanic structures.
Nearest Hyperbaric Chamber Hospital Insular de Lanzarote Juan de Quesada, 35500 Arrecife, Lanzarote Telephone: (+34) 928 81 05 00 / (+34) 928 81 00 00
Interactive Location Map
Hover over the dive sites below to uncover their names
The Puerto del Carmen geosite was formed by submerged lava flows that were sculpted by coastal erosion when the sea level was lower. The forms that were shaped range from columns and monoliths, to tubes and caves. One such cave is referred to as 'La Catedral
' (The Cathedral), but this site is probably more known for its large denizen than its large cave structure. As divers swim up to the cave, a curious dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus
) called Felix will sometimes approach and accompany them inside, almost as if he is showing them around his grand abode. We know that large dusky groupers are all male, as they, like many other fish species, are protogynous hermaphrodites and are always born female. As they grow older and larger, they develop into males. Dusky groupers are solitary fish that prey on molluscs and crustaceans, which makes La Catedral a perfect home for Felix as there are plenty of crustaceans hidden in nooks and crannies within the vertical walls of the cave.'The Cathedral'; Felix's (Epinephelus marginatus) silhouette can be seen on the left side of the cave opening
' (Blue Hole) is another notable dive site nearby. After passing through fields of brown garden eels (Heteroconger longissimus
) and schools of white seabreams (Diplodus sargus
) and Azores chromis (Chromis limbata
), divers will dip down into a tunnel that opens up from the sandy shallows before emerging out of the side of the wall that drops off into the depths. From there, divers can explore several shallow caves at the base of the wall before swinging back around to the pier. Both the Cathedral and the Blue Hole are shore dives from the Playa Chica pier
Much further away, at the southern tip of Lanzarote, lies a collection of forms that were shaped by completely different means. The site is Europe's first underwater museum, 'Museo Atlántico' (English : Atlantico Museum
), and is located in a sheltered area in Bahía de Las Coloradas which requires a boat (usually from Marina Rubicon
) to get to. The museum contains over 300 pH-neutral sculptures that have been laid 15 metres deep in order to create an artificial reef. The sculptures, some that were molded from actual residents of Lanzarote, are supposed to illustrate "the dialogue between past and present and the divisions within society", with a focus on Europe's refugee crisis that dominated the news in 2015-2016. The artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, has said that it is a tribute to the refugees whose "dreams and hopes remain at the bottom of the sea".
Museo Atlántico Exhibits
'Crossing The Rubicón' / 'The Portal'
Immortal - "Molded from a local fisherman from La Graciosa island, on the north coast of Lanzarote, the sculpture is made up of a series of concrete sticks and it is representing a traditional funeral pyre."
The Raft of Lampedusa - "Reflecting on the human crisis based on Gericáult’s painting. It represents how sailors were abandoned in the shipwreck off the coast of Senegal. The sculpture aims to show the parallelism between that controversial situation and the current refugee crisis, where many people are being abandoned by society, due to a lack of humanity."
Los Jolateros - "A group of children on brass boats, called “jolateros”, making reference to a local tradition and also a metaphor of a possible future for our children, and how precarious it would be to sail on a brass boat."
Crossing The Rubicón - "Consists of a group of 35 figures walking towards an underwater wall and entrance, a boundary between two realities and a portal to the Atlantic Ocean. The wall is intended to be a monument to absurdity, a dysfunctional barrier in the middle of a vast fluid, three-dimensional space, which can be bypassed in any direction."
The Portal - "Depicts a hybrid animal/human sculpture looking into a large square mirror, which reflects the moving surface of the ocean. Forming part of the underwater botanical garden the concept is intended to portray water within water, an interface or looking glass into another world, the blue world."
Hybrid Garden - "A merge of nature and humanity living in harmony, and at the same time making a reference to the rich vegetation of Lanzarote. These sculptures are half human, half cactus, and are an important part of the botanic garden."
The Human Gyre - "Over 200 life-size figurative works creating a vast circular formation or gyre. Consisting of various models of all ages and from all walks of life, the positioning of the figures constructs a complex reef formation for marine species to inhabit and is a poignant statement for visitors to take with them at the end of the tour."
As the Canary Current flows alongside the coast of Morocco, it draws cooler upwelled water from the coast on its way south, making the sea temperature around the Canary Islands somewhat lower than other locations around similar latitudes. This cooler upwelled coastal water also means that the water surrounding Lanzarote, the easternmost island, is cooler in comparison to the rest of the islands in the archipelago, with temperatures as low as 18 °C between winter and early spring and up to 24 °C between August and October.Tube-dwelling anemone (Family: Cerianthidae)
The Canary Islands are one of the only places in the world where angel sharks (Squatina squatina
) are still considered fairly abundant. These sharks are ambush predators that bury themselves in the sand while waiting for their prey to pass by. Angel sharks used to be frequently sighted around the coasts of Western Europe in the early 20th century, but since then, angel shark populations have decreased dramatically due to commercial fisheries. These sharks are especially vulnerable to fishing techniques that result in a large amount of bycatch such as bottom trawling or bottom longlines, as they are benthic
by nature and tend to have habitats that are close to coastlines. Their numbers have decreased so drastically that it is thought that there are fewer than a dozen angelsharks in Irish
waters. The IUCN has also classified the angelshark as Critically Endangered
.Canarian sea star (Narcissia canariensis)
Aside from angel sharks, numerous other benthic
organisms (sometimes referred to as 'benthos') can be found buried in the shallow sand fields off the coast of Lanzarote. Wide-eyed flounders (Bothus podas
) and the European common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis
), both also ambush predators, can be seen quite often. The latter has many hunting tools at its disposal, from spitting out water to reveal their prey that is buried in the sand, to rapidly shooting out a pair of long feeding tentacles that pulls their prey into its beak just before paralysing it with venom. As for their camouflage mastery, I wrote the following in my Komodo Island
A European common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) waiting for its prey. Even the texture of its skin has been changed to blend into the sand.
Cuttlefish seems to have perfected the art [of camouflage]. These voracious predators are able to observe their surroundings and not only change their colours accordingly, but are also able to manipulate sections of their skin called papillae in order to match the physical texture of the surface that they are imitating. These changes of colour are not only used for the purpose of camouflage when hiding or sneaking up on prey, but also to mesmerise their prey when the colours are flashed repeatedly. Male cuttlefish have also been observed imitating females to increase their chances of mating!
organisms that are frequently seen, albeit not buried under the sand, are short-snouted seahorses (Hippocampus hippocampus
), diamond lizardfish (Synodus synodus
), and striped red mullets (Mullus surmuletus
). Mullets are a type of goatfish, a name that was derived from the characteristic whiskers of goats, as goatfish have chemosensory
organs called 'chin barbels' that are used to probe the sand when they hunt for their prey. Scorpionfish, such as the Madeira rockfish (Scorpaena maderensis
), can also sometimes be spotted camouflaged amongst the rocks. Like cuttlefish, scorpionfish are masters of camouflage. Their modus operandi is very different however, as their sedentary nature can quite often cause algae or hydroids to grow on their skin. These growths, along with the mottled colourings and skin flaps or 'tassels', sometime even end up luring their prey towards them!Arrow crab (Stenorhynchus lanceolatus)
The waters that surround the coast of Lanzarote also play host to a variety of small critters. The ones that immediately come to the minds of divers are of course nudibranchs. Mediterranean violet aeolids (Flabellina affinis
) are ubiquitous here, but despite their miniature size--individuals only grow to a maximum size of 5 centimetres--their tiny splashes of violet can easily be spotted on the rocks and corals. These nudibranchs feed on cnidarians such as hydrozoas (seen below in the smaller image on the left
), primarily those from the Eudendrium genus (Eudendrium spp.
) which are common around the Canary Islands to the Mediterranean Sea.A Mediterranean violet aeolid (Flabellina affinis) and its many aeolid nudibranch 'growths'
Mediterranean violet aeolids, like other nudibranchs, are simultaneous hermaphrodites which means that they can mate with any other mature member of their species. At the front of the nudibranch are two large chemosensory
annulate growths that are called 'rhinophores
' that function as scent receptors. The rhinophores detect chemicals that are dissolved in the water, and help the nudibranch to not only stay close to their food source, but to also find mates. Below the rhinophores are another set of long growths that are the oral tentacles, and below them yet another smaller pair that are the propodial tentacles.These aeolid nudibranchs are also covered with long dorsal growths, which are essentially protruding organs called 'cerata
'. Cerata allow aeolid nudibranchs to absorb greater amounts of oxygen via their skin due to the increased surface area. If you look closely at the Mediterranean violet aeolid, you may notice an orange streak that extends into the white-tip of the cerata. This is the digestive tract that carries the nematocysts
of the hydrozoas that the nudibranch consumes to the cnidosacs at the tips of their cerata, as a form of defense.Instead of cerata, dorid nudibranchs (which tend to be larger than aeolid nudibranchs) have a circular plume of gills on the posterior end of the dorsal surface. Since dorids do not have cerata, they instead store their defensive allomones (antifeedant chemicals) from the sponges that they consume within their mantle. In the case of Felimare picta
, the concentration of these chemicals, which are called mantle dermal formations (MDF), can be seen as opaque white spheres within the translucent band at the edge of their mantle.Common colouration of Canary Islands' Felimare picta; MDFs can clearly be seen along the edge of its mantle
Bearded fireworms (Hermodice carunculata
) are also ubiquitous in the waters around Lanzarote. Their name is very apt as they have stinging white bristles, or chaeta, along the sides of their segments that, when flared, can penetrate skin. When they do, they break off and inject neurotoxins which produce a painful burning sensation, and can even result in nausea and dizziness. Alongside the bristles are red-orange growths which are the gills of the fireworm. These gills have a texture that matches another appendage at the front of the worm that is a chemosensory
organ that functions as a scent receptor.A bearded fireworm (Hermodice carunculata)....with its venom-filled bristles flared