Divers heading out to sea

Dive sites (Malta): The Inland Sea (Gozo)

Inland Sea, Gozo
Inland Sea, Gozo

On one of the days we spent diving in Malta we did two dives on the island of Gozo, accessible from Malta by using the car ferry at Cirkewwa. The diving on Gozo is wonderful, and there are dive centres located on this island even though only about ten percent of the  500,000-strong Maltese population resides here (the rest are on Malta, with four lonely souls on Comino). GozoDiver has more.

The Inland Sea is a small, shallow (maximum 2 metres deep) body of water on Gozo at Dwejra Point, linked to the open sea by an 80 metre long tunnel through the rock. The Inland Sea itself is about 60 metres wide and is fringed by fishermen’s huts and a cafe or two. The tunnel is about 3 metres deep at its entrance on the Inland Sea, and drops to about 26 metres by the time it reaches the ocean.

Getting across (or through) the Inland Sea to the entrance of the tunnel was a bit uncomfortable – we entered the water next to a small jetty and put our fins on, but it was too shallow to swim and the rocks on the bottom were of an inconvenient size (like melons) and texture (slippery) for walking over. A slow backstroke punctuated by occasional ringing sounds as my tank struck a rock was the order of the day.

Divers heading out to sea
Divers heading out to sea

The tunnel and Inland Sea are used by pleasure boats which take tourists through the tunnel, and out into the ocean to see the Azure Window and surrounding coastline. While it’s an overhead environment in the sense that there’s a solid sheet of rock above one’s head, it’s possible to surface in the tunnel (provided one watches out for boats and stays near the sides). We descended at the entrance of the tunnel, straight into several metres of water. As we swam further into the tunnel the rocky bottom cleared to leave a sandy path down the middle of the tunnel. The tunnel slopes downward as one approaches the ocean.

A white tufted wom (Protula tubularia)
A white tufted wom (Protula tubularia)

I found swimming through the tunnel to be an absolutely mind boggling experience. The blue of the open sea ahead is profound and draws one on through the darkness, and the warm water is incredibly comfortable. It was the kind of place where one can almost hear an imaginary soundtrack of some kind of celestial muzak. I felt that after having this experience I could die, happy. I also felt that this must be what heaven looks like (honestly – I could have stayed in that tunnel forever). But I didn’t die (of happiness) – the end of the tunnel brought us out onto a wall that dropped down to 50 or 60 metres.

We took a long swim along the wall, at varying depths – we probably moved between 25 and 10 metres, following the contour of the outcrops and gullies. There were some weird horizontal thermoclines that manifested themselves visibly as well as through my wetsuit. Shimmering walls of water up ahead indicated a drop (often brief) in temperature. I’m not sure if these weren’t maybe spots where fresh water was seeping out into the sea through the limestone rocks.

Emerging from the vertical tunnel
Emerging from the vertical tunnel

Just prior to this dive, Divemaster Sergey asked me in an offhand manner if I was claustrophobic. I replied in the negative, and thought nothing of it until he swam us through a 15 metre vertical tunnel in the rock, just wide enough to accommodate an average-sized diver. The tunnel opened up at about three metres’ depth, and a letterbox type arrangement allowed one to exit. I found this to be quite an intense experience, and was rather impressed with myself afterwards for swimming through the tunnel without batting an eyelid. I don’t have any cavern or cave training (and don’t actually think I want any – open water diving is fine for me!) but there was something wonderful about the caves and holes we swam into in Malta that helped me to understand the allure of overhead environments to braver folk than I (such as Cecil!).

Tony swims above me
Tony swims above me

We made our way back along the wall and into the tunnel, reversing our route to return to the Inland Sea. Just before the entrance to the Inland Sea we made a safety stop among huge blocks of limestone that have fallen from the ceiling of the tunnel. There was a lot of life here – colourful seaweeds, algae, corals and sponges, and some shy invertebrates who hid from Tony’s video light and my torch.

A fireworm inside the tunnel
A fireworm inside the tunnel

There was quite a lot of swimming involved in this dive, and it was fairly demanding both physically and mentally. Obviously Sergey had decided what dive plan we’d follow based on what he’d learned of Tony’s and my air consumption and water skills in the five dives we’d already done under his guidance, and the options for routes and dive plans here are endless. Peter G. Lemon’s book on scuba diving in Malta lists a few of the options, and additional dive plans can be devised from the maps he provides.

Dive date: 4 August 2011

Air temperature: 32 degrees

Water temperature: 24 degrees

Maximum depth: 25.2 metres

Visibility: 35 metres

Dive duration: 53 minutes

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Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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