Somewhere about June or August of 2018, I’ve decided to return to Malta and spend New Year holidays diving at the Mediterranean Sea. At that time, the airline charged about $400 for the round-trip ticket. Instead of buying it in June, I’ve made a mistake and waited until October, when the amount went up to 620 bucks. But, considering what I was going to pay for the place to stay, car, food, and diving, it still was a very reasonable tag for the winter retreat.

Bezz Malta Diving Center
Dublin Airport
Cork Ireland

My previous trip to Malta, during the summer of 2017, has shown me a nice place for the explorations above and below the surface of the Mediterranean. The air temperature, in July of 2017, was 112F (44C) and staying outside of a cool apartment or air-conditioned car was a challenge. Thus, it was quite a relief diving to the sunken treasures of the island. Despite that wreaks are not on the top of my preferences for underwater explorations, I dove with Bezz Malta Diving Center and enjoyed every plunge.

Passing Mount Etna

Victoria Gate. Valletta

During the winter, the “Bezz” shifts its operation to the Maldives, and the team settles on the small atoll of Rasdhoo. Therefore, upon my inquiry, I was offered to contact Scuba Life Malta. It turned out, that the shop was located just 2 minutes driving time from the rented apartment. Jacqui, one of the owners, was happy to take me to all available dive-sites and we agreed to do the first dive on 30th of December.

Narrow streets of Valletta

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu. Gozo

Scuba Life Malta

One may say that “Scuba Life Malta” is a boutique shop, conveniently located at the first floor, on one of many narrow streets of Mellieha. But there is nothing small about its performance, the shop delivers on a large scale. To summarize – the operation is well-thought-out and nicely organized. Before and after each dive, all important information; the amount of gas, time underwater and depth was properly logged. Using The Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving Malta-Gozo-Comino, by Peter G. Lemon, each dive was clearly explained and planned precisely.

Moby Dick of Valletta

Since during the winter time, the weather can be harsh and unsuitable for diving, Jacqui was looking at all possibilities to make our underwater exploration safe and enjoyable. Plus, with me, she had an additional challenge. She knew that I am not much into the wrecks and that my foremost interests are small marine organisms (which Malta, in general, is not famous for). So, she had to find places that I did not visit yet, protected from wind and where we can find subjects for macro photography.

Ponta ta L-Ahrax. Mellieha

Before I list all dive-spots, that we were able to visit, I’d like to mention that after finding out that rental of a BCD, at Scuba Life Malta, was going to cast me just a $3.50 a day (3€), I decided to leave my compensator and fins at home. Hence, my dive-bag was easier to manage and weighted only 44lb

Siggiewi, West shore of Malta

In the morning of 30th, I’ve met Jacque and Crissy, a dive-master who also was going to join us. We sized buoyancy compensator, adjusted fins, sorted weights and set our course to the first dive-site – HMS Maori, located at the depth of about 40ft in the St. Elmo Bay of Valletta.

Fort Saint Elmo

Diving

The day was sunny with the air temperature about 60F (16C). We parked right at the entrance to the site and 10 minutes later stepped into the bay. Jacque warned me to be careful, pointing to me at a large amount of the Purplestripped jellyfish, swimming by the shoreline. But I was happy to see them, the first object to photograph and right from the get-go. We had another diver from Ireland with us, and while everyone was getting into the water, I was able to check my camera and to snap a few shots of the Pelagia noctiluca.

Purplestripped jellyfish (Pelagia noctiluca)

We swam over the large boulders and a minute later hit a sandy bottom. About 40-50 feet away, I could see remains of the World War II destroyer. Before we begin our dive, Jacque explained that the ship originally sunk at the neighboring bay. And during towing it from the Grand Harbour to the Marsamxett Harbour, some parts of the ship were lost. But still, we could clearly see a bow section of the vessel with the gun mounts and even remaining part of a bomb.

Rockfish (Scorpaena scrofa)

I dove with the macro lens and was looking for the small marine creatures, but due to great visibility, about 40-50 feet (12-15m), I hoped to take pictures of large objects.

Spiral Tube-worm (Sabella spallanzanii)

And yet, as soon as we arrived at the wreck, Jacque spotted our first nudibranch – Cratena peregrina – also known as a Pilgrim hervia. It’s an attractive and colorful member of a Facelinidae family. Thinking that this is going to be a rare find, I spent about 2-3 minutes photographing this slug. But to my pleasant surprise, a few seconds later, Jacque founded 2 more Cratena p. … and then more, and more.

Cratena peregrina

Cratena peregrina

10 minutes into the dive I was picking which nudi was more photogenic than the other ones.

Hermit crab

While I was taking my time with Pilgrim hervia, Crissy has spotted a cuttlefish. I slowly glided over the sandy bottom to the small reef, opened lens’ aperture to f10 and began taking pictures at about 20 feet away. But before the cuttlefish decided that I was close enough and it’s time to move, I was 3-4 feet away from it and the animal filled the whole frame.

Sepia officinalis

Common Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis)

Common Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis)

I’m photographing the marine life for more than 9 years, and during all my trips, I saw quite a few cuttlefish. But until now, I did not see one hiding in the sand.

Common Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis)

Common Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis)

By the end of the dive, Jacque called me and using her fingers formed the shape of a heart. As I swam closer, she pointed to me at the real beauty – Flabellina affinis. It has such a striking color, that once you saw it, then it was practically impossible to see anything else. I took a few shots and Jacque showed me that it was the time to go back to the shore.

Flabellina affinis

Upon resurfacing, Jacque asked me if I wanted to stay here or to explore another site. I really wanted to go back to the Flabellina affinis, so I gladly accepted her offer to make a second dive at the same spot.

Flabellina affinis

An hour later, I moved directly to the place where we found a violet knockout. More than an hour passed, but the nudi moved no more than an inch. I took enough pictures to satisfy my soul and moved to the other side of the wreck, where Jacque indicated to me the remaining part of a bomb.

Bomb shell

Crissy found and pointed to me at the part of the ship, where, in the cavity of the warped metal, was hiding Mediterranean moray eel. Running a little ahead, I can tell you that in all 5 dive-sites, I’ve visited during this trip, I saw at least one member of a so-called The Roman Eel. I also can add, that usually, when I’ve seen an eel, it would reside in its lair and often with the open mouth. But local creatures, whose bite can be dangerous to the humans, soundlessly “barked” at their noisy guests.

Mediterranean moray eel (Muraena helena)

We also saw lots of Painted comber, resting on the tops of the rocks and a few Eyed flounders. Those were so well camouflaged, that it was really hard to distinguish fish from the sand.

Painted comber (Serranus scriba)

Eyed flounder (Bothus ocellatus)

Eyed flounder (Bothus ocellatus)

On the way to the shore, I saw three mating Purplestripped jellyfish.

Mating Purplestripped jellyfish (Pelagia noctiluca)

The next time, we went to the Southern Region of Malta and dove at the Ghar Lapsi dive-site. This time I was diving with Crissy and Davide only. The best part of this excursion was going through the caves of the Ghar Lapsi. As soon as we swam out of the cave, Davide pointed to me at the big octopus, wedged between the large rock and sandy bottom.

Common octopus (Octopus vulgaris)

Mediterranean moray eel (Muraena helena)

Mediterranean moray eel (Muraena helena)

I wished that I checked my wide-angle port while I still was at home. Wanting to lighten the weight of my luggage, instead of a heavy 8-inch port, that I usually use, I took with me a 4-inch one.  At the Ghar Lapsi dive-site, I tried to use a smaller port, but, to my regret, the business end of the Canon 17-40 lens did not fit into the opening. Thus, blaming only myself, our second tour with Davide, Crissy and I, was the longest and the least productive dive of the whole trip.

Rockfish (Scorpaena scrofa)

The next day, Crissy and I were diving at the Mouth of the Valley dive-site, Wied Iż-Żurrieq. I dove at this location in the summer of 2017, visiting Um El-Faroud wreck. This time we stayed in the little bay and begin our first dive at 2 PM, planning to have a night dive at the same location.

Mouth of the Valley dive-site, Wied Iż-Żurrieq

And again, I was pissed at myself that I left home my wide-angle port. Spotted by Crissy, the “titbit” of this dive was a John-Dory. This is a beautiful fish with the unique ability to vanish right in front of your eyes just by turning to face you.

John Dory (Zeus faber)

It was really hard to use a macro lens to capture the whole JD, with its beautiful, long spines, growing out of its dorsal fin. And yet, the visibility was phenomenal and the fish, although edging slowly away, let me get close enough to make a few decent shots. Jacque, who dives almost every day, told us that she did not see John Dory for 9 months.

John Dory (Zeus faber)

We moved along the wall and later into the dive, spotted a Madeira Rockfish. I did not mention before, but at every dive, besides Mediterranean eels, we saw plenty of rockfish. Large and small, unexciting and colorful, it looked like they were occupying almost every rock.

Madeira Rockfish (Scorpaena maderensis)

Madeira Rockfish (Scorpaena maderensis)

The weather turned to the worst, and the night dive was canceled. We packed our gear and headed back to Mellieha. So, the dive at the Mouth of the Valley was the last dive of this trip.

Striped large-eye bream (Gnathodentex aureolineatus)

Conclusion

First of all, I’d like to express my deep gratitude to the “Bezz”, for introducing me great folks of the Scuba Life Malta – Jacque, Crissy, and Davide. With constant attention to safety, I felt in a great hand. I also would like to say the special thank you to Crissy, for continuously picking up plastic bottles, lost spoon-baits and other rubbish from the bottom of the sea and then properly disposing it at the surface.

Crissy P.

The Russian saying goes, you’ll pass the whole year just the way you’ve met it. Well, if it’s so, then I truly hope that 2019 will be the continuation of my Malta trip.

 

New discoveries and safe diving to all.