An island of flowers – Part 7: Marine treasures

As promised, this post won’t be dedicated to terrestrial, but marine creatures.
We’ll start with a nice little cruise off the Southern coast of Madeira:

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Very popular with tourists, these 3-4 hour cruises on catamarans offer the visitor a chance to catch a glimpse of Madeira’s marine fauna. There are 10 species of whales that can be spotted in these waters (including two of the world’s largest, the sperm and blue whale), 9 species of dolphins as well as seals and turtles. We had the chance to encounter several pods of common dolphins (Delphinus delphis):

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…as well as a Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) swimming at the surface. Juveniles like this one are frequently seen in Madeiran waters. Despite their wide range (they are found in Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans), loggerheads are still an endangered species. It doesn’t show clearly on the picture, but it was accompanied by a large pilot fish (fishes which follow sharks ot turtles and eat the parasites that develop on their skin):

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Of course, being on an island, we also had the opportunity to go diving. There are no postcard-perfect beaches on Madeira. Instead, it is just rocks and boulders gently sloping down to the sea. This is an ideal playground for animals such as starfishes. My favourites of the trip are the impressive Astropecten aranciacus (which can reach a whopping 55 cm!) and the spiny starfish (Marthasterias glacialis):

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Octopus are highly intelligent animals, and they can be quite curious of divers. Here’s a very friendly chap who decided to play with us for a few minutes:

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There are some less friendly creatures in the sea, one of which being moray eels, which sit in crevices waiting for their preys. Here, a bluefin damselfish (or fish with the most unpronounceable name, Abudefduf luridus) is getting a bit too close to a moray!

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The second site we had the chance to discover is a natural reserve located at the South Eastern tip of the island, at a very scenic site, Ponta do Garajau. The dives there are deeper, the waves bigger, but there’s still a nice view of Funchal in the distance:

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In Garajau there is a wide diversity of fishes, from white seabreams (Diplodus sargus) to tropical-looking ornate wrasses (Thalassoma pavo) or parrot fishes. We even saw some barracudas (Sphyraena barracuda) passing above our heads, and a stingray.

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On almost every rock there are bearded fireworms (Hermodice carunculata) – whose bristle can inflict a painful sting. Better not touch…

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The area has been protected since 1986, and the big attraction here is the population of  dusky groupers (Epinephelus marginatus), some of which weigh up to 60kg!

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Despite being good predators, they tend to be very nice to divers, and even like being petted! The biggest of all in the reserve, nicknamed Elvis, is deemed to be over 50 years old…

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It might not be the Red Sea, but Madeiran waters still hold many treasures🙂

About Sophie

Qui suis-je? Who am I? Wer bin Ich? A biologist crazy about everything that lives on earth, under water and in the air. Loving plants, gardening, music, diving and travelling. Currently rescuing threatened garden plants at Plant Heritage (NCCPG).
This entry was posted in Biology, Travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to An island of flowers – Part 7: Marine treasures

  1. Emily Heath says:

    Love the starfish and most of all the friendly octopus.

  2. Pingback: An island of flowers – Part 9 (the end): By the mountain and the sea | Naturanaute

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