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Partytime for pelagics

Terça-Feira, dia 19 de Outubro de 2010

We have travelled 50 miles from our base harbour on the Azorean island of Faial, sailing over a 2,500m abyss to reach a fabled dive site. Below us is the famous Princess Alice Bank, the tip of a submerged volcano range, and a magnet for the pelagic life of the open ocean. As if to herald our arrival, a big school of mobula rays sweeps past the boat and the skipper, Norberto, barks out a simple briefing, warning the divers to stay together, minimise their bottom time and be aware of what is going on at the  surface.
We descend down a line and at 20m I can just make out the dark outline of the pinnacle another 15m below me. The current lessens with depth, and eventually I leave the line and swim out to the reef. It’s like being on a great balcony overlooking the abyss. From below, a mixed school of striped tunas and bulky amberjacks sweeps in and engulfs us, and a huge stingray passes by a couple of metres away. Life on this reef is intense – there are fish everywhere, while every fissure in the rock seems to be occupied by a moray eel or a slipper lobster. Despite these distractions, I suddenly remember Norberto’s briefing – ‘The action is at the surface!’ – and look up the  anchor line to see the school of mobula rays approaching like a squadron of fighter aircraft. As the divers ascend the line, we are engulfed by 20 or more rays – it’s the sort of encounter you would associate with Cocos or the Galápagos, but these are European waters, where pelagic encounters of this calibre are rare indeed.
The deep water surrounding the Azores makes the Portuguese-owned archipelago one of the prime destinations for observing pelagic animals, notably spotted and  bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales, false killer whales and even the mighty sperm whale.
The central islands of Pico and Faial offer the best diving and whale-watching opportunities, but if you are interested in more traditional dive sites, then you can encounter a healthy range of sub-tropical fauna at places such as Monte de Guia, which has benefited from marine reserve protection since 1980, or the pinnacle dives in the strait between Pico and Faial.
Typically, you can expect to see pelagic fish such as amberjacks,and tuna, but it’s also an opportunity to dive with the reef fish of the Azores. On any given dive, you are likely to encounter groupers, parrotfish, barred hogfish, moray eels and plenty of crabs among the black coral. However, of all the sites there is nothing to compare with the Princess Alice Bank, a spectacular oasis in a desert of blue.
From the diver’s perspective, the most rewarding and convenient of the archipelago’s nine islands are Faial and Pico in the central group. You can fly direct from London on Sata (www.sata.pt) and also via several continental Portuguese airports. Norberto Serpa is one of the most experienced divers in the Azores. Based in Faial, he works as a scientific diver for the local university, and is one of the few operators who can arrange trips to the Princess Alice Banks, in addition to the dolphin snorkelling and whale  watching for which the Azores is renowned. For more details go to www.norbertodiver.com; phone 00 351 292293 891; email norbertodiver@mail.telepac.pt.
Another well-known operation based in Pico Island and with offices in the UK is Dive The Azores. For more details go to www.divetheazores.com; phone 0845 438 4750; email info@divetheazores.com

Fonte: Dive Magazine

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