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August 16, 2006

Punta de El Sabinar

BY: Ricardo

August 1, 2006

After one day and a half in Aguadulce port working on the boat, doing some shopping and changing crews, we set sail towards the coasts of Almería to continue our work. We need to continue to document the marine prairies on the sea floors in that area. We would also like to see what state they are in.

Once we reach the chosen area, we find many Cymodocea nodosa leaves floating on the surface along with clouds of sediment that have risen from the sea floor. As soon as we dive in, we see the marks of the trawlers that have left the prairies completely barren. But apart from this unfortunate although sadly common discovery which is destroying many acres of rich sea floor ecosystems, the day would turn out to be surprisingly agreeable; although the prairie was not very dense, is was very valuable and beautiful. In the area we have chosen, we discover four different habitats that we were interested in documenting: a prairie of Posidonia oceanica, a prairie of Cymodocea nodosa (in some areas, these two were mixed), a maerl bed and reefs made up of Mesophyllum alternans.

We have been lucky: the same site offers us many possibilities. The first thing we find is a prairie of Posidonia oceanica and, amongst it, many large concretions of the calcareous red algae Mesophyllum alternans which forms a large reef. These algae also create many hiding places and havens for the fauna to live in, and generate substrate for the other algae. Small blennies (Parablennius pilicornis) and slugs, tube worms of the Protula genus, excavating sponges (Cliona viridis)… a whole world in miniature.

In many areas, among the Cymodocea nodosa prairies, we find numerous rhodolites of red algae. Here, the maerl beds blend in with the prairie forming some dense masses. Dozens of purple-spined sea urchins (Sphaerechinus granularis), devourers of red algae, move amongst them. These sea urchins have such a hard outer structure that they need only worry about a few predator species that can devour them, for example the powerful spiny starfish (Marthasterias glacialis) that was, in fact, to be seen in the vicinity.

We see a great many number of species. These combined habitats generate rich ecosystems. A large eel also wanted to participate in our work. In the beginning, it seems as if it was posing for our cameras, and later, it takes off rapidly swimming amongst the divers. Our work here is also finished for today; tonight, with a certain bitter-sweet feeling produced by the good and the bad things we have seen, we set sail towards the Cabo de Gata Marine Reserve.