13 April 2022
The diving in Ustica rates as some of the best in the Mediterranean. The entire island has been a Marine Reserve since 1986 which has resulted in many fish including some very large specimens. Ustica dives typically feature caves, tunnels, reefs and walls.
You can dive off Ustica from May to October. It is quietest, and accommodation is cheapest, in May, June, September and October. During the diving season water temperatures range from 18 oC in May rising to 26 oC in August before dropping down to a still warm 22 oC in October.
This is one of the best dives in the Med. It features a steep, beautifully-decorated, wall; large shoal of barracuda; grouper; giant amberjacks and a wreck. The wreck is a 74 m ship which was carrying slabs of marble. It sank in 2005 and rests at 20 m in two parts. The wall is covered in corals and sponges, including Cup coral Caryophyllia smithii and Pink sponge Oscarella lobularis. The dive is usually done keeping the wall on your right and following it along until you reach the wreck. Go past the wreck to the point where you are likely to see a swirling shoal of barracuda, large grouper and amberjack. Smaller fish also congregate, like chromis and turkish wrasse Thalassoma pavo. At its highest the wall is just 2 m from the surface. Voted one of the top ten dive sites in Europe.
"In only one dive, it is possible to see around 30 groupers, big wreck fish of 40 kilos, amberjacks, Mediterranean barracudas, dentex, enormous white breams and crayfish. Spectacular red Gorgonia open their fans both on the wall at a depth of over 35 meters and on the rocky banks called "panettoni" dotting the bottom. "
Punta Galera is a reef by the Grotta dei Gamberi. A rocky outcrop projects from the shore with shoals of fish at the end like Boops boops, Diplodus vulgaris and damsel fish. You may also see barracuda, amberjacks and grouper (Epinephelus marginatus). There is a cave at around 32 m with lots of the very pretty bryozoan, Neptune's Lace (Sertella septentrionalis, also known as Trina di mare and Rosa di mare). These delicate, pale-pink, mesh-like structures are colonial animals with stony skeletons of calcium carbonate. Another pretty organism is Clathrina clathrus - which is a sponge which looks like a yellow mesh. The bay is covered in seagrass, indicating a high quality of the water that is free from pollutants.
Another excellent dive. You can go through a wide entrance into a stunning cavern at 20 m. This is around 70 m long. You can see a potential exit straight ahead, but instead of taking that one it is more beautiful to turn left and leave through a tunnel that way. Blue light streams in through the exit holes. On the roof are clumps of the yellow Parazoanthus axinellae sea anemone. After leaving the cavern move into a narrow canyon, in single-file. This is full of corals, anemones and sponges. The canyon opens onto the point of the island where huge shoals of Chromis (Damsel Fish) remind you of the Red Sea and not the Mediterranean. Moving round the point there are schools of Barracuda and often several large Amberjacks - top diving!
When you approach the dive site in the boat you see a small rock sticking up out of the water. It is called the Doctor's Rock as a patient was apparently very dissatisfied with his Doctor's Service and abandoned him on the rock to die.
There are other ways to dive this site. For instance, you could instead get into the cavern via a short cave entered through a rift in the rock at 8 m.
"Five or six dives are necessary to see it all. It is characteristic for an underwater passage, 20 meters deep, which goes right through all its 70 meters of length. You can be quite sure to meet big groupers and Mediterranean barracudas. "
You can enter this cavern by going in single file down a chimney from 28 to 40 m. Very pretty with Vaca de Mare (Peltodoris atromaculata) nudibranchs. Swim round to the left, around a rocky outcrop to the large exit between 36 and 40 m. To the right of the exit is a tall crevice. Just outside the cave, at 41 m, there is a Pinna nobilis. If you are comfortable by having to make decompression stops you can prolong the dive by swimming through an attractive chasm. This takes you back down to over 40 m.
This cave has a wide entrance at 41 m. The orange and blue prawns shrimps - Parapandalus narval - which give the cave its name are numerous and pretty. Lovely delicate corals on the way out. Inside the cave are Pinna nobilis. The cave itself is wide and long, around 130 m, and 8 m high. Taking things steadily, allow around 20 minutes to descend and exit at 18 m. The deepest part of the cave is the entrance; it slopes up from here. You can always see either the entrance or the exit. The way out is not the obvious two holes you can sea but a short tunnel just to the left of these. You could go through the obvious holes but they are quite tight. Nudibranchs are common in this cave, Vaca de Mare and the pretty blue Facelina coronata.
Three pinnacles, the shallowest peaking at 24 m. False black coral at 46 and 50 m. This appears bright yellow in colour. The false black coral sometimes invades gorgonion colonies and partly or entirely covers them. Often huge numbers of barracuda.
"Only for experienced divers ! Lots of barracudas and pelagic fish as tuna. Amazing! "
This dive is on what was probably an ancient Roman pier. Many amphora are embedded in the floor of a small cave. You then fin across the bay to a wall covered in life: gorgonia, nudibranchs, sponges, etc. Also many fish.
If the sea should be choppy, this dive is a good option as it is in a sheltered position. Dive in at the bay and follow the wall to a cavern. On the right is a hole with a large conger eel. At the back of the cavern are shrimps. From the cavern the dive follows the drop-off. Return at 15-18 m. Plenty of fish.
Please send your questions, or add your comments, on this page and diving in Ustica.