Ideally located in a sheltered inlet at the heart of the integral zone of the Bonifacio Strait Natural Reserve, the Lavezzi underwater trail is really worth the visit to discover a healthy, diverse and coloured fauna and flora which represents a window on the riches of the Mediterranean biodiversity.
Although it hasn’t been easy to find the ideal location, the expertise and belief of a main seduced by the concept have been a determining factor. Jean-Louis Pieraggi is a sea lover who shows concern for the preservation of its fragile beauty, seemed an automatic choice to lead the project. This passionate Corsican is a state-certified diving instructor, including diving without an aqualung, and an animator at heart. He has totally involved himself in locating the right spot and offering an underwater trail that enables visitors to observe an interesting variety of marine ecosystems at accessible depths in sheltered clear waters.
An entertaining and instructive activity
“ Creating a sense of wonder is the most efficient way to sensitizing people,” explains Jean-Louis Pieraggi, who is the person in charge of environmental education at the Environment Office of Corsica. His enthusiasm is infectious: “The objective of this activity is to enable trekkers to discover the underwater fauna and flora in the best possible condition so as to have an effect on them and make them understand what is at stake in the reserve.”
Accessible beginners and experienced divers from 8 to 88 years old, the trail begins at 2 to 12 metres deep in the company of Jean-Louis Pieraggi. He identifies the marine ecosystems using a waterproof booklet and explains the interactions between the different species encountered. Every year, between June and August, not less than 1000 divers enjoy this captivating journey. This entertaining and instructive activity proposed by the Environment Office of Corsica is free of charge and lasts approximately an hour. The equipment (inflatable board, diving mask and breathing tube) is also provided. The trail is a very popular activity, namely among families. Due to its growing success, the guide cannot satisfy all demands, whereby the need to make a booking a few days beforehand at the Environment Office of Corsica.
An underwater trek accessible to all
Four to five diving trips are organised daily in summer. Groups are deliberately limited to five people “to enable everyone to fully take part in the exploration,” says the animator who, despite the frequency of dives, never has enough of exploring the trail. “Every dive is an opportunity to discover new animals and predatory and defensive behaviours, as well as fascinating scenes of mating!”
Observation of various ecosystems
Divers enter the water from a small beach of fine sand located on the western side of the archipelago, near the information point. Jean-Louis distributes waterproof booklets to all the participants to enable them to identify the species encountered and starts by explaining the basics of swimming with flippers, a diving mask and a breathing tube. The water temperature is approximately 26°C, the visibility is optimal and a multitude of multicoloured fish surrounds the divers. “Wipe the mist from your goggles and the excursion can begin!”
The first part of the adventure takes place between two and twelve metres above the sandy seabed dotted with little rocks that softly slope down. The divers are escorted by a friendly horde of saupes, white and saddled seabreams as well as surmullets that accompany them all through the dive. This is a moving multicoloured courtesy encounter for neophytes, but Jean-Louis is already pointing at a small group of mullets and explains how they dig the sand with their barbels to look for small worms.
A few centimetres away, a curious goby, attracted by the bustle, pops its head out. Our guide tells us that this small sedentary fish has ventral fins that join together to form a suction disc that enables it to resist the current by to sticking to a support. Afterwards, it’s time to discover the seagrass meadows that Jean-Louis invites us to consider as a forest in the Mediterranean Sea that harbours a multitude of animal species and provides them with food all the while serving as nursery.
Fishes are not shy
For a while, we observe the movement of stalks that flicker with the current and discover a beautiful razor fish while some hogfish and parrotfish roaming freely above the vast expanse of submarine grassland. We are surprised by the sociable attitude of the fish, which have gradually got used to the ‘homo palmus’, a not-so-discreet species. Jean-Louis snaps his fingers a few times to attract them, with an immediate effect. Feeding the fish is of course forbidden to avoid altering their eating habits.
After making our way back to the sea surface, Jean-Louis explains why the seagrass meadows are threatened today and how precious their conservation is to ensure a healthy Mediterranean seabed.
Beyond the meadows, the Big Blue
Jean-Louis leads more experienced divers in the second part of the trail, which is filled with thrill. The visit initially leads to a site where pieces of amphoras lie partially buried in the sand. Due to its reefs which just break the surface of the water, the archipelago has always been considered as highly dangerous for navigation. The reefs have caused numerous shipwrecks, including that of the ‘Sémillante’ in 1855, during which 700 people died. The commemorative pyramid erected on top of the Achiarino rock is a reminder of the indomitable and unpredictable nature of the sea.
Taking time to observe the fishes ‘behaviours
At a few flipper strokes towards the high sea, the site presents a vast plateau with multiple rocks of all forms at 15 metres deep. A very amusing configuration that fills with joy even the most experienced divers. We follow our guide, who takes us to the faults where brown meagres, white seabreams and amberjacks cross each other’s path and where some congers and crayfish have found refuge. The entrance is often guarded by impressive groupers that seem a tad unsociable. As enthusiastic as on the first day, Jean-Louis enters the narrow tunnel leading to a natural air pocket and invites us to follow him while taking care not to cause any damage to the flora on our way. Innumerable surprises await us around each rock and our guide expertly tells us about each one of them. A redfish that rests on a rocky perch covered with orange encrusting sponge has adopted the latter’s colour to better surprise its preys.
A respectful approach to wildlife
The rocky walls are decorated with sea urchins, orange encrusting sponges and ivory peacock’s tails among which a curious triplefin blenny (tripterygion melanurus) sometimes pops out its head. If you focus too much on the fixed life, you can easily forget to look for basses, pandoras, dentexes and gilt-head seabreams that can suddenly appear, coming from the high sea. Unaffected by the bustle, the grey mullets, wrasses and anthias fish keep gleaning the seagrass meadow. Jean-Louis, who enjoys harpooning, knows the habits of each fish species and provides us with an unforgettable experience by showing us his magnificent playground.
Besides his teaching abilities, Jean-Louis enjoys sharing his responsible approach to consumption and his constant efforts to preserve the environment. And even if he expresses concern regarding the future of the Big Blue, he is convinced that an excursion along the underwater trail can change the way trekkers view the sea.